Friday, December 12, 2014

Qatari Homes

A Qatari friend of mine has almost finished building his home, a process that took over 2 years.

Qataris are fortunate that the Government has a program to provide citizens with housing. When a Qatari gets married they can apply to the Government for a plot of land to build a house on. The Government will provide the land as well as an interest-free loan that the Qatari can use to build the house. I'm not 100% sure exactly how much the loan is but it is at least QAR 600,000 (US$165,000). Building costs are so expensive here that not surprisingly the loan that is not enough to build a house anymore so people usually wind up supplementing it with savings or a bank loan.

After applying to the Government they need to wait until the land is allocated. The Government usually sets out a large area, surveys it, then allocates the plots – hundreds or even thousands at a time. This means it can be a number of months between applying for the land and being told where your plot of land will be. The applicant does not get much say in where their plot of land will be, though if there are multiple areas being surveyed they can request to be in a certain area (no guarantees though).

Once allocated you might not be able to start building right away. If the land is sloped then it will need to be leveled. As part of the land allocation the Government will do the leveling en masse but then it's a matter of waiting for that to occur. If the Qatari wants to level his plot of land so he can start building right away then he has to pay for the leveling himself. My friend was lucky, his land was 90+% flat, so leveling was easy and did not cost much.

Next you need to work with an architect to design the house and get the plans approved by the relevant Ministry. Apparently the Government does have 5 or 6 pre-approved designs that you can choose from (which is why many homes look similar) but if you want your own design then you have to pay for the architect to draft the plans.

After that you hire a construction company and start building. The neighborhood will not have paved roads yet so a 4x4 is necessary to visit the site. In my friend's neighborhood a number of homes were under construction.

So what are the typical features of a Qatari home?

1) No basement

People not familiar with Qatar may think that it's a sandy desert but in truth there is not a lot of sand, the sand dunes are in the south of the country. The land in Doha is hard rock so to dig in it requires a lot of drilling and heavy machinery, which is very expensive. Thus most Qatari homes do not have a basement and instead will be two or three stories tall. They look a lot bigger than a North American home because there is no basement.

2) It will be circled by walls

This is by law. All homes must be surrounded by a wall something like 2m to 3m high. Qataris would never have a problem with this, Arabs are generally a very private people and homes were always designed with privacy in mind. While the homes are taller than the wall there will be very few windows facing a neighbor's house, thus limiting how much you or your neighbor can see into the other's home.

3) The men’s majlis will typically be detached from the main house.

When a Qatari man has friends over they will meet in a majlis (the word roughly translates as “place of sitting”). Because of cultural rules regarding gender segregation and privacy it is common for a majlis to be a separate building, even with a small kitchen and bathroom, thus men will not need to go into the main house. When I receive an invite to visit friends my assumption is that I will be going to the majlis and never into the house itself. In fact it was nice to be able to tour my friend's house while it was under construction, chances are once it is completed and his family has moved in I’ll never go inside it again.

Some Qataris will design the house such that the majlis will even have its own door in the outside wall, so men access the majlis essentially through a side door rather than go through the main entrance where the owner would park his vehicles.

Ladies will also have a majlis for when their friends visit but that will be in the house.

In the following picture of my friend's house the smaller building on the left is the men's majlis.

Because of the importance of gender segregation a Qatari home will typically also have . . .

4) Detached living quarters for male servants

Most Qatari families have servants such as maids, nannies and drivers. Any male servants would not be living in the house so a separate room or rooms will be set up where they will live. Female servants will live in maids’ rooms in the house.

5) Detached kitchen

Some homes will keep the main kitchen separate from the house. My friend’s house was set up this way, the kitchen is about 1.5m away from the house, requiring someone going to the kitchen to briefly go outside to reach the kitchen. This helps to keep the smells from cooking from permeating through the house and is also better from a fire safety perspective. If there is a kitchen fire then the gap helps to protect the house from burning.

Not all Qatari homes do this but it is not considered unusual to have a detached kitchen.

That’s the main things that I can think of. It can take a bit of time to build the home, and after that there can still be a wait for the water and electricity to be hooked up, but once finished the family can enjoy their new home.

No comments: