With a simple change in lifestyle, you can turn the seemingly barren pieces of
land into beds of green. Dr Anna Grichting Solder, Assistant Professor at Qatar
University, tells Umer Nangiana how ‘turning green with envy’ is possible

You land in this part of the world and immediately sense something is missing: a natural habitat. With long harsh summers where temperatures rise as high as 50 degrees Celsius and almost negligible annual rainfall, you wonder, what else can one get in this terrain.
But all this can be changed. The harsh climate can be tamed and with a simple change in lifestyle, you can turn the seemingly barren pieces of land into beds of green. All you need is a will, and then, a little planning to build living spaces.
If you cannot put it under your feet, put it over your heads. If you cannot plant on the surface, plant it on the rooftops of buildings. If there is no rain, use the waste water. And there are plants that can adapt and survive harsh weather conditions. You just need to plan and strategise.
Dr Anna Grichting Solder, Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, College of Engineering, Qatar University, and her students are doing exactly that. As well as wanting to educate people about ways to achieve green landscapes, Dr Anna and her associates have practically demonstrated that rooftops can be turned into gardens.
Using permaculture technique, they have established one such rooftop garden at one of their department buildings. She says there are multiple other ways to successfully grow plants in Qatar and establish gardens that are both productive and serene.
“I think there are different approaches. One is integrating it into the design (of buildings). You need to have structures that will hold the earth. A deeper level of earth will have more species and will hold the water better,” Dr Anna tells Community.
So where and how exactly can one do this?
“For example, in the villas here, there are a lot of flat roofs where you can have elevated beds and plant a lot of things. You just have to calculate how much load you can put on the roof,” the professor points out.
“Here, usually it only has water tanks, may be air conditioning, etc. In Switzerland, we calculate the roofs for snow load, for example. So you need to know what the load of the roof is before you pile a lot of things on it,” cautions Dr Anna.
Another approach, she says, is that you can do a dry roof, more like a desert roof with native species.
“And you can actually use even treated water from a building. For example, I know a lady who has a permaculture garden and she uses the water directly from her washing machine into the
garden and grow vegetables,”
says Dr Anna.
But then with the water, one thing you have to see is how the water proofing is on the rooftop. If you start putting a lot of water, you want the roof to be water proof. There are a lot of things to look into before you adopt one technique to grow a garden, but Dr Anna believes there are several possibilities.
“I know there are a lot of people who are skeptical and they say, ‘Oh! it is 50 degrees in summer here,’ but there are months where you can actually grow things and a lot of people actually do grow things and we need to encourage them more,” she reasons.
For example, she points to a composter placed on the roof that can be one way of converting kitchen and yard waste into valuable fertiliser. Compost can be a single most important supplement that you can give your garden and achieving it is easy with the new easily affordable composters.
“One thing that we do not do here in Qatar is compost. But with this type of composter that we have here, it is very easy. It is very hot here. If you have to compost in your garden and you have got a very small backyard, it can get very smelly,” says Dr Anna.
“With this drum if you put the compost in there, which means all the organic waste from your food, everything that we throw away goes into the landfill, you can compost quicker because you can turn it and it has compost systems which does not smell,” she adds.
For water, you can get it from multiple sources. If you use water from your washing machine or your sink and you recycle your organic waste, you are, in fact, saving a lot of resources already. And you can plant vegetables with that, may be, not all year around, but the idea is that we must not disregard things just because we cannot do it twelve months a year, Dr Anna reasons.
She says there is a lot of potential, but there needs to be more awareness. “And it is not just (limited to) us designing campuses or future compounds or buildings for such integration, but it is also about people themselves transforming their own apartments or compound buildings (along) these lines,” she emphasises.
If a building is built more as a system and we recycle water, then, water does not become such a problem. The problem now is that all the water goes into a system and is treated so we have a lot of TSE (Treated Sewage Effluent) actually, which is used in landscaping, but it is even often more than is necessary.
If we look at the buildings as a system, we can take that water directly instead of pumping it all somewhere and then pumping it all back, says the professor.
“There are also reed beds and you can treat black water with reed beds; you can treat water with plants.”
Another option is hydroponics.
“You do not need a lot of water because you recycle the water all the time and there are also very interesting systems called Aquaponics. This way, you can have fish and grow vegetables. The nutrients from fish are the nutrients for salads and tomatoes, and then, they clean the water for the fish,” she suggests.
Dr Anna says it all depends on what plants one intends to grow. For example, at their department garden they are trying to build a permaculture where plants are beneficial and they adapt to the conditions.
“Now, we have brought a few trees that we hope will grow bigger and will provide shade and then will keep some of the shade and the moisture in the ground. So there are also ways to keep the moisture to not use so much water,” says Dr Anna.
“We really have to minimise water usage and maximise all the recycling, but there is a lot more to do in this regard.”
The professor urges the architects to think about these systems as well, not just engineers. They all have to work together to make greener and sustainable rooftops and landscapes a reality in Qatar.

COVERED IN GREEN: This garden at the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, College of Engineering, Qatar University is beautiful and productive.