The steel frameworks are almost complete on the first buildings in Musheireb, the US$5.5 billion (Dh20.2bn) redevelopment project in downtown Doha.
Construction started in January last year on the 35-hectare development billed as the "world's first downtown sustainable regeneration project".
Plans call for more than 100 new buildings, including commercial, residential and cultural projects near the Qatar capital's old market, Souq Waqif. The first phase is on track for completion next year, said Issa al Mohannadi, the chief executive of Dohaland, the project developer.
"It is one of the fastest moving projects," in the region, Mr al Mohannadi said. The architecture of Musheireb combines modern and traditional elements. Buildings are arranged in a "softened relationship", avoiding a rigid grid pattern, to increase the cooling effect of winds from the north-west, Mr al Mohannadi said. But the designs will use modern technology to generate and conserve energy, he said.
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"We're not mimicking the past," Mr al Mohannadi said. "It is taking the roots of what was there 50 years ago and developing the architectural language based on them."
Musheireb will eventually include about 274,000 square metres of commercial and retail space, 850 hotel rooms and residential units to house 13,000 people. The new buildings will compete with large master-planned projects under development on the outskirts of the city.
But Musheireb is creating a new, high-quality central business district for the city, said David Dudley, the regional director of Abu Dhabi and Qatar for Jones Lang LaSalle. He compares it to the Xintiandi district in Shanghai and Solidere in Beirut.
"It's fairly radical for this part of the world," Mr Dudley said. "It really will set a new benchmark for performance in the city."
Rental rates for both office and residential units in Doha have slipped 20 per cent to 30 per cent in the past two years, according to local analysts.
But residents and businesses are starting to relocate from the suburbs of Doha back downtown, said Diaa Noufal, the head of research for Century 21 in Qatar."There will be huge demand [for downtown] in coming years," he said.
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Musheireb has not tested the commercial markets yet, Mr Mohannadi said. The three primary towers in the first phase are all pre-leased by government agencies, he said.
The global downturn affected the market, but winning the rights to host the Fifa World Cup in 2022 has changed Doha's prospects, he said.
"2022 has boosted the economy of Qatar and the real estate," Mr al Mohannadi said. "I don't think there is any need to change the plans because I think we are back to … a good time."
Dohaland is a subsidiary of the Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organisation established in 1995.
The foundation has financed the first phase of the project and part of the second phase, but Dohaland may explore outside financing for the rest of the project, Mr al Mohannadi said.
"We will look at options if we need to go out for outside financing beyond phase two, if we need to," he said.
Dohaland does not plan to sell any of the buildings or residential units in the project. The revenue from leasing will serve as an endowment for the foundation, Mr al Mohannadi said.
"We will build it and hold it," he said.
Success for the project will be measured on criteria beyond simple rental rates and space absorption reports, he added. "There are many aspirations behind this development far beyond only to make money.
"The whole aspiration was to spark a reaction around us and the whole city and start changing face of downtown," he said.