While the façade of the old Civil Defense building has been left untouched – including the symbolic red fire pole – the interior has been stripped and repurposed to create galleries, art spaces, and studios with a raw, industrial and minimalist vibe.
According to the centre’s director Hala Al Khalifa, additional care was taken to preserve the original form of the fire station tower outside, which will be used as a way for artists and management to broadcast messages to the public. An authentic fire truck has been parked outside.
The ground floor serves as a gallery space, where the inaugural 555 exhibition – a nod to the ‘999’ emergency line for fires in Qatar – is hosted. 555 is both a play on the year that the residency programme first commenced, and the number 999 that was dialed by residents of Qatar to contact the Fire Station. As such, we also pay homage to the Civil Defence community for their years of service to the people of Qatar.
The exhibition pays homage to Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani, Qatar Museum’s Vice President, who started a decade-long residency programme that began in 1995. 555 features several works by Iraqi artists Dia Azzawi, Ismail Fattah and Ismail Azzam, among others.
Noted for their unique styles across media like plaster, canvas, and wood, the artists lauded the initial programme for its flexibility. The works of other large-scale artists like the late Iraqi sculptor Ismail Fattah, whose large five-piece sculpture of human-like figures forms one of the defining pieces of the exhibition, are also on display (pictured left).
Artists in residence programme
The building’s other floors are dedicated to 20 studio spaces for artists in residence, and four others reserved for visiting international artists who will attend the programme for a few months at a time.
It will span a period of nine months and include artists from a range of different disciplines, including art, photography, design, architecture and other fields.
So far, the programme, which is currently only open to local Qatari artists and residents of Qatar, has received some 150 applications. Regional artists will be able to apply for spots at a later date.
The goal is to allow novice or mid-level artists to interact with and be mentored by established mavens of the art world.
Additionally, artists chosen to be part of the residency programme will also have access to museums, special exhibitions, lectures and curators from across the world, via Qatar Museums. Their residency will culminate in an exhibition in the Garage Gallery to showcase their productions.
When it opens this autumn, the second phase of the Fire Station building, dubbed the ‘annex,’ will contain workshop spaces, cafés, restaurants, an art supply shop and a cinema.
Hala Al Khalifa, Head of Artists in Residence Program said: ‘The Doha Fire Station is a building of great importance to the community; it has served the community the past 30 years and will continue to do so through the arts with a new identity as Fire Station: Artists in Residence. Our goal is to support artists living in Qatar and provide a platform for creative exchange.’
The Doha Fire Station was built in 1982 as a Civil Defence building. The building was occupied by the fire brigade until late 2012 when it was handed over to Qatar Museums for preservation and conservation.
As the state puts emphasis on preserving old architecture, this is an example of recycling a building for contemporary use. Moreover, the existing tower will be LED programmed allowing for the community to engage and be aware of activities at Fire Station.
The project is led by renowned Qatari architect Ibrahim Al Jaidah, who has retained much of the original building. He said: ‘I am thrilled to see that such recognition and importance is given to our early modern architectural era from the period 1970–80. I have had an opportunity to be involved in a number of projects of a similar character: renovation of the Ministry of Finance, Old Emiri Diwan, the Post Office building, and now the Firehouse. It is my great honour to be working with Qatar Museums on this unique project. Our city will have such great space, one with history, available for work and as inspiration to many local, regional and international artists. I am very happy to see this project under way, not only as its designer and architect, but also as a citizen and individual who is interested in arts.’
Building work on the site began in August 2013. The second phase of Fire Station: Artists in Residence is due for completion in late 2015 with coffee shops, restaurants and other facilities.
A hub for creative exchange
The Fire Station Artist in Residence sits at the heart of Doha’s flourishing art community. It provides the perfect springboard for creativity, helping people take their passion to the next level.
The Fire Station offers nine-month programmes for artists who are resident in Qatar. During this time, they move into one of the studios, collaborate with fellow creatives and develop their own technique. They meet curators, can access all exhibitions and are encouraged to join lectures.
They benefit from weekly mentoring sessions and meet arts professionals from all over the world, representing Qatar in the international cultural community. The initiative demonstrates the state’s commitment to nurturing emerging talent.
Visit the Fire Station website for more information: firestation.org.qa.
The Garage Gallery is a spacious 700 square metre space, housed in the original garage of the building. It’s a platform for a range of exhibitions in Doha, from hosting the residency end of year exhibition, to serving as another venue for Mathaf projects. Resident artists can also curate their own shows in the Garage throughout their stay, and it is open to students and professors from universities in Qatar and the region.
Location and Timings
The Fire Station overlooks the Grand Park and the Doha Corniche. At a juncture between residential suburbs and the sky-scraping heights of Al Dafna, the site occupies the original Civil Defense building, a national landmark and namesake of the round-about it looks out to over Wadi Al Sail.
The property was purpose built for the Civil Defense in 1982 and used for 30 years, until the final fire engine was relocated in December 2012.
The original architectural features have inspired and laid foundation to the renovated design, offering stimulation for creative minds while providing the space for artists to reflect and create.
Sunday 10:30 am – 7:30 pm
Monday 10:30 am – 7:30 pm
Wednesday 10:30 am – 7:30 pm
Thursday Noon – 8pm
Friday 2 pm – 8 pm
Saturday Noon – 8 pm
Author: Sarah Mascrenhas, Photography: © Andrea Buenafe
This article has been extracted from the ‘Special Features’ section from the Marhaba Information Guide Issue No 63 Autumn 2015. Grab the latest Marhaba issue from the nearest supermarket or bookstore near you.
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