Omani Overture

MEA takes a look at WATG's work on the Royal Muscat Opera House

Over 40 subcontractors are involved in the high-profile project in Muscat.
Over 40 subcontractors are involved in the high-profile project in Muscat.

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The Royal Opera House in Muscat has turned a lot of heads since it was first announced in 2001, but almost nine years on the project is progressing smoothly towards its targeted grand opening in October 2011.

When complete, the opera house will be only the second of its kind in the Middle East and occupy an area of 80,000 m2, half of which will be set aside for landscaped gardens. The complex will also include a mini-theatre, restaurants and luxury stores.

Designed by WATG and commissioned by opera-loving Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos, the building imitates an Italian-style opera house but sits in the surroundings of Muscat’s diplomatic quarter alongside a number of government buildings, including the foreign ministry.

Iman Hindawi, general director of the Royal Opera House in Muscat, told AFP in an interview last month that the opera house was originally supposed to be finished in time for the 40th anniversary of Sultan Qaboos rule, in 2010, but that “construction is proceeding at an appropriate pace and it will be ready by October 2011,”

Also speaking at the end of last year, project director Hamid al-Ghazali said that the biggest challenge during construction had been organising the manpower on site, with some 1,500 workers and 40 subcontractors involved in the project.

“Coordinating them all to work together isn’t easy,” Hamid said.
WATG’s involvement in the project began in 2003, when Royal Court Affairs of the Sultanate of Oman invited firms to compete for the design of the project.

After a number of competitive stages, WATG won the contract and were invited to lead the team for the complete design and supervision.

This included master planning, architecture, interior design and landscape architecture, as well as design management of the decorative lighting, kitchen design, graphics, signage, all engineering services and acoustic design consultants.

The architectural character of the building was influenced by the grand style of modern Omani palaces, and reflects their outward design features and circulation patterns.

The front entrance is an expansive palm-treed piazza backed by five tall, arched entryways into a hall that forms the central focus of a colonnade designed to create a grand feeling of entrance.

The building is clad in light coloured stone and complementary stucco, which was all locally sourced.

But while limited images of the exterior of the project have become available, the interiors, along with the cost, remain a mystery. The first person to see the inside when it is finished will be the Sultan himself.

“It is the best-kept secret in Muscat,” an on-site associate of director Hindawi told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The only other opera house in the Middle East and North Africa region is in Cairo, Egypt, which was established in 1988.

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