Project Based Learning for Urban
Resilient Cities Under Rapid Urban Change,
the case of Doha, Qatar
Dr. Yasser Mahgoub, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning,
College of Engineering, Qatar Unuiversity
World Engineering Education Forum
Engineering Education for a Resilient Society
Florence, Italy 20-24. 09. 2015
1. Project Based Learning
(PBL) approach has always
proved effective in teaching
and learning in engineering,
architecture and urban
2. It engages learners,
teachers and community in
investigating and designing
real life, community based
Project Based Learning (PBL)
According to Thomas (2000), Project-
Based Learning (PBL) is define as,
“A model that organizes learning
“Projects are complex tasks, based on
challenging questions or problems,
that involve students in design,
problem-solving, decision making, or
investigative activities; give students
the opportunity to work relatively
autonomously over extended periods
of time; and culminate in realistic
products or presentations.” (Thomas,
He listed five criteria that a project must have to be considered an
instance of PBL:
1- Centrality of PBL to the curriculum.
2- Driving question or problems to encounter central concepts and
principles of a discipline.
3- Constructive investigations leading to transformation and
construction of knowledge on the part of the student.
4- Autonomy or student-driven to some significant degree.
5- Realism and authenticity of topics, tasks, roles, context,
collaboration, products, and audience, linking students to real-life
Architecture and urban design
disciplines have a long tradition in
applying Project-Based learning in
This tradition has continued in
different parts of the world since the
founding of architecture of
education at Académie Royale
d'Architecture, Ecole des Beaux-
Arts in 19th Century Paris.
“The cornerstone of the Beaux Arts
system was the ‘design problem’
assigned to the student early in the
term and carefully developed under
Kuhn (2001) identified the “essential characteristics” of architectural
education that may be portable to education in other technically-
based design fields:
1- Student work is organized primarily into semester-length projects, responding to a complex
and open ended assignment.
2- Students’ design solutions undergo multiple and rapid iterations.
3- Critique is frequent.
4- Heterogeneous issues are addressed.
5- Students study precedents and are encouraged to think about the big picture.
6- Faculty help students to impose appropriate constraints on their design process in order to
navigate a complex and open ended problem and find a satisfactory design solution.
7- The appropriate use of a variety of design media over the course of the project significantly
supports and improves students’ insight and designs.
Urban design education has followed the
tradition of project-based learning of
architectural education as a method of
introducing knowledge and skills to
It allows students to understand urban
issues in cities and urban environments
as integral part of the living experience of
people and produce urban scale projects
Urban design problems are complex
problems involving transportation,
landscape, people, economy, history,
individual and groups of buildings, work
places, leisure activities, parking and
more. They require complex design
process aiming at producing sustainable
and resilient solutions.
• Doha, the capital of Qatar, is
experiencing rapid urban
change since the second half
of the 20th century.
• This rapid urbanization has
resulted in the remarkable
transformation of its urban
environment and the
disappearance of traditional
neighborhoods, that were
replaced by modern mega
public buildings and
• Currently mega development
projects are introducing new
infrastructure projects; roads and
metro, that are expected to impact
the city in an unprecedented way.
• Mega infrastructure projects
provide ample opportunity to
reduce car dependency and
provide pedestrian walkways and
• Underground metro stations
provide public transportation
access to the city downtown that
require urban transformation and
• The students of Urban Planning
Legislations course at the Master of
Urban Planning and Design
program were introduced to the
- What is the expected impact of
these mega infrastructure projects
on the city, especially the city
- What urban design strategies and
legislations are needed to achieve
maximum benefit from this vast
- And finally, what types of urban
design projects are needed to
achieve these goals?
The area of the first project,
known as Old-Mushaireb, is
located near the under
Downtown Doha and the
renovated touristic attraction
Souq Waqif, was the
residence of many old Qatari
families. It has a strategic
location in the heart of Doha
surrounded by main roads,
namely; the A-Ring Road,
Wadi Musheireb Street and
Abdul Aziz Bin Ahmed Street.
It contains large number of
traditional houses, historical
and modern buildings.
• The aim of this project was to
study the old Masheireb area
and introduce strategies to
preserve and enhance the
quality of its built environment
that would consequently
enhance the human
experience and use of space.
• The goal was to make the
area a national and tourist
attraction representing a
stage in the physical evolution
of the built environment in
Groups of 3 to 4 students
carried out surveys and site
visits of the assigned areas,
studied precedents in other
countries around the world,
and conducted literature
review of urban planning
strategies and legislations.
They also studied best
practice projects constructed
in similar contexts. The work
was performed by the groups
of students and the progress
was reviewed weekly with the
For the first project, the area
was surveyed and
documented applying urban
planning and design methods
and practices. The team
members analyzed the area
and a proposed a
improvement strategy that
addresses the following
preservation, Safety and
security, Children, Senior
Territoriality and Streets and
parking. (More in the full paper.)
The second project objective was
to propose urban corridors to
provide linkage for the dispersed
developments in the downtown
area. Urban corridors are linear
system of urban organization
which acts as a linkage between
city parts through transportation
and economic axes. They spark
business and change the nature
and function of urban areas,
towns and cities, not only
promoting economic growth but
also reinforcing urban primacy
and balanced development.
Groups of 3 to 4 students carried
out surveys and site visits of the
assigned areas, studied
precedents in other countries
around the world, and conducted
literature review of urban
planning strategies and
legislations. They also studied
best practice projects
constructed in similar contexts.
The work was performed by the
groups of students and the
progress was reviewed weekly
with the instructor.
The teams proposed three different approaches to retrofit urban areas
located close to proposed underground metro stations.
1- The first approach called for the transformation of streets to be car-
free and dedicated only for pedestrian use.
2- The second approach called for the transformation of downtown
streets to be cultural parks providing green space for downtown
3- The third approach called for generation of pedestrian streets
accessible by public transportation and limited vehicular access.
The projects provided a model for a comprehensive strategy to retrofit,
improve and preserve traditional built environments that represent
important stages of Doha’s urban development. (More in the full paper.)
Conclusions - Doha
While providing opportunities for urban development,
mega projects threaten the resilience and
sustainability of cities.
There is a need to tame the changes imposed by
these projects and preserve some of traditional
environments for future generations and at the same
time provide opportunities for economic and social
development, in order to achieve a resilient city
capable of adapting to rapid urbanization changes.
Educating urban designers equipped awareness,
skills, and practical experience to propose
appropriate solutions is required.
Conclusions - PBL
The paper supports the application PBL approach in
engineering, architecture and urban design
education. It encourages the application of this
approach in a more interdisciplinary and integrated
The major challenge of PBL is communicating its
results to decision makers and officials. Alas, these
efforts continue to be perceived as merely academic
exercises and not of relevant practical values. PBL
continues to be perceived as progressive learning
method, yet it requires platform for recognizing its
value and benefits to society.