Putting Oman in context

Simon Chambers explains why the Oman market fits his design philosophy

Simon Chambers, a partner at architecture firm Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ).
Simon Chambers, a partner at architecture firm Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ).

Simon Chambers, a partner at architecture firm Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ), said it has several ongoing projects in Oman and that the appeal of the country remains how its philosophy to design dovetails with GAJ’s approach to design and architecture.

“A contextual approach is a building that responds to the local environment. Responding to the local environment isn’t simply about fitting in with the building next door or replicating traditional elements, which I think often gets misunderstood by people designing in this region,” Chambers told Construction Week.

“It’s not about copying things, it’s about understanding why they are done and putting a contemporary twist on it but following the same principles.

“Our headquarters are in Dubai. Dubai is a very different beast to Oman. There’s not much context left in Dubai. There’s a lot of context here, there’s a rich history and we feel we can add a great deal and help to develop the country with this sensitive approach to design.”

GAJ was the masterplanner/lead consultant for Saraya Bandar Jissah – an integrated tourism complex (ITC) on the outskirts of Muscat, which marked its debut project in the Sultanate in 2007.

“We were responsible for the design of all the residential areas, the recreation club and the staff accommodation,” said Chambers. “Those packages have been let for tender; the hotels are under construction now.

There are nine different villa types ranging from apartments up to five-six bedroom villas.” Chambers said GAJ had also undertaken a feasibility study for Omran’s Ras Al Hadd development. The firm was given the responsibility to create a concept for the site and came up with an eco-resort based around wildlife and sea activities.

“I think that’s hopefully being moved forward over the course of next year,” he said.

Meanwhile, GAJ is working for Ominvest on a mixed-use beach resort project in Salalah. It is undertaking the hotel package which includes a four- and a five-star hotel, a souk and some apartments.

“It’s based on the concept of the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai in terms of two hotels and a souk in the middle that’s used by the two hotels,” said Chambers. “And again, it’s quite pared back, quite contemporary but there’s always an Arabic influence – contemporary Omani, as we like to do it.”

GAJ’s second project in Salalah is Dhofar Beach Resort for Taameer Investment. This is a 287-key, five-star hotel that will be operated by Shaza and has just completed scheme design.

The firm again teamed with Taameer at the Plaza Hotel at The Wave in Muscat, where it was responsible for the architecture, interior design and MEP.

“Oman I don’t think was hit quite as badly as boom towns like Dubai in 2008 and things are definitely picking up now. I think it has the right attitude to move forward,” said Chambers.

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