Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Cultured Pearl

At major roundabouts all over town, these giant hoardings dominate the scene, their framework demurely covered by sacking like a lady's hijab.

Frontside of many of them are 20-foot tall ladies covered not by the hijab but instead by glittering carnival masks, the better to bestow their come-hither smiles on us.

They are of course advertising Doha's answer to other Gulf residential mega-developments: The Pearl, a 400 hectare reclamation on one of the old pearl-diving sites just north of the city. Dubai has its fantasyland Palm and World havens for the truly affluent; at The Pearl you just have to be above-averagely well-heeled. (If you're interested, one-bedroom apartments are being advertised starting at about NZ$1.2 million). And there's room for lots of you - 50,000 residents when it's finished. You can get all the details from the horse's mouth; but as the first of many promenades and arcades are already open for viewing, we (like most expats) just had to go and have a look. These are our impressions.

After crossing the causeway the first thing you come to is The Oyster, a dome structure housing the biggest architectural/landscape model you are likely to see, with every villa, high-rise, boulevard and marina miniaturised in loving detail. It must have been fun to construct.

If you get there early enough you might be lucky to get directed into a nice shady parking level of one of the buildings - ironically this happened to us on the coldest day we have had here (like, 20 deg with a few spits of rain on the breeze); but normally you drive through a courtyard, past the Ferrari dealer,

over an ornate but half-finished bridge, and park in the hot sun on one of the central islands, not yet built upon.

then there's a free tuk-tuk ride back to civilisation.

Doha may well have more cranes per square km than anywhere else in the world; The Pearl would appear to have more cranes per square km than anywhere else in Doha.

It's Construction City, widescreen.

Time for a walk along the promenade - about 1 km of the lagoon shoreline from the causeway to the southside lagoon entrance is open, quite enough on a hot day.

But no worries, numerous cafes and one or two posh resataurants are also open to cater for your thirst (at posh prices).

And there are plenty of shady galleries,

cloisters and colonnades,

and lofty vaulted halls.

It's all beautifully finished; Islamic architectural details abound,

indoors and out.

Ambient sound is part of the experience - the green thing in front of the palm tree is an outdoor Bose speaker; there are one or two in every flower bed, at ten-metre intervals all along the walk and across its 20 0r 30 metre width. Not sure if this is just for show during the marketing phase, or if it will be a universal feature around the entire estate; but do the sums and it would seem the sound system in this corner alone is worth millions. It does do the job in a gently persuasive manner worthy of the brand; and someone has programmed a reasonably hip selection of tracks to get you in the mood.

The visuals are something else; just on the subliminal side of blatant (or vice versa).

Does meeting these eager faces and in-your-face taglines at every corner really persuade the masses to come and buy?

Let's spell it out just to make sure.Align Centre

The local shopkeepers will be hoping it works a treat. There are about 50 top label boutiques already open just in this little corner of The Pearl, doing a roaring starve but looking ever so swish. The crowds will surely come, it's not much further than Villagio for most people, quite handy to pop down for a Giorgio Armani shirt,

a Hermes tea set,

a Stella McCartney handbag

or an upgrade of the pleasure boat lease.

And there's a handy directory (Rolls Royce hasn't opened yet, but we can be patient).

To get some perspective I climbed this tower, which may or may not be part of a mosque yet to be dedicated (no tall buildings are finished enough yet to allow visitors up top for penthouse views, but any day now I'm sure).

The platform under the roof of the tower is inaccessible without climbing over a metre-wide concrete wall, but the top of the stairs was an ideal spot for a quick 360 dgree video.

I've thrown this one in as well, despite the first half requiring viewers to injure their necks - your novice director didn't realise that videos can't be done in portrait format or rotated - apologies for that, but it does give a better view from halfway down the stairs. The second half is from the end of the open part of the boardwalk, a quarter of the way round the lagoon.

Meanwhile work quietly goes on around you. The project is a bit behind time, but nobody seems too hurried.

This guy's full time job is to dust the miles of railings.

And from the end of the promenade you can look back over the bay to the CBD towers, where corporate types no doubt look equally fondly across to their mushrooming investment.

As this worker waiting for transport back to his bedspace doubtless agrees, it's got all the makings of a beautiful life.

It may not actually have the crashing surf beach featured in the promotional video, but The Pearl seems to have just about everything else an aspiring Gulf Riviera dweller might want. The scale of the thing is truly impressive to a Kiwi hick, though by Doha's galloping standards it's probably just a taste. Build it and they will come, eh.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tony.

    I've been reading your blog a while and all along I thought you were in Dubai. Doha sounds like Dubai with all the construction going on.

    I've been reading your blog in Outlook but this post makes it crash, I think it's too big or has too many photos.

    While I think it's cool that Qatar (like UAE) is investing heavily in buildings etc, a part of me doesn't get it. Who's going to live in all those apartments? They're not exactly cheap. Why would one want to move to the Persian Gulf? What industries will there be when the oil dries up? Why would I want to live in the desert? Where it's Muslim-tastic? Where you can't even drink a beer...