New Parliament Building, Oman

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Oman’s recent civilisation is very visually present in the architecture of the landmark buildings that are spread throughout the country. It is the vision of Sultan Qaboos, the Sultan of Oman, to build a modern civilisation that has its roots in the Islamic arts and culture and this can be best seen in the modern Omani architecture of the low rise buildings in the capital city, Muscat.

The architecture of modern day Oman is unique in the Arab world combining Arab and Islamic culture and heritage with a classic contemporary style. Most of the buildings utilise the simple lines and arches found in the traditional forts and castles together with the precise cutting and carving technologies of the modern day to create some of the most magnificent Islamic architectural sculptures found around the world today. The Royal Opera House, the Grand Mosque and the Allam Palace are examples of this architectural style.

Majlis Oman, the new parliament building, is the latest of these landmark buildings in Muscat. The building comes as a testimony to the Sultan’s vision of establishing a modern democratic state built on grounded Islamic routes where the people of the land are an integral part of the decision-making authorities in the country.

The symbolic significance of this project cannot be overstated. The Majlis is at the very heart of Oman’s constitutional power and is the only legislative body in Oman where all members are democratically elected.

The building is located in the prestigious Al Bustan area of Oman close to the Ceremonial Palace and Ministerial buildings. The new Majlis overlooks the Gulf of Oman and is surrounded by a mountainous background and primary dual carriageways.

The building’s design has a number of elements that are based upon elements from the numerous early forts located throughout Oman. This building both respects the origins and takes from it, and also adapts into a modern Omani style showing the forward looking intents of the government.

Scale is the key to the design of the external spaces. The architectural scale of the Majlis Oman built form is truly grand and monumental and drives the design. This grand and monumental scale is preserved in the landscape. Broad and flexible spaces open views to the architectural façades. These spaces are also designed to accommodate the grandeur and spectacle of ceremonial functions.

The grandeur establishes the Majlis Oman as the symbol of the highest order of national governance. The design of external spaces also provides human scaled spaces within the campus. Trees and palms planted relatively close to the facades transition the scale from monumental to human. Social scaled spaces are created in areas close to buildings. Examples are the two enclosed courtyards, the Clock Tower Courtyard and the Mosque Plaza that are more detailed and intimate spaces for smaller groups or solitary enjoyment of the outdoor environment.

The actual construction of the main building started on 29 July 2009 and was completed on 13 October 2014. The 101,931sq.m site featured a new building to the upper and lower houses of parliament (Majlis Oman, Majlis A’shura and Majlis A’ddowla), VIP areas, an information centre, library and associated offices/facilities to support the buildings.

The concept design of this iconic building started as a design competition that Australian architectural practice Moller Architects won. Detail design was carried out by Oman’s Royal Court of Affairs’ in-house team of architects, designers and engineers with Ammar H. Mohamed (Senior Lighting Engineer) and Anthony Coyle (Coordinating Architect).

The preliminary site enabling works took six months as the site had a hill which was removed and a number of Wadis (water channels) that were diverted away from the project site. Lighting design practice Visual Energy was commissioned by the Royal Court of Affairs to design the façade and landscape lighting for the entire project. The brief was to bring the Majlis alive at night time with the help of artificial lighting to enhance the style and identity of the building.

With over 2km of façade to illuminate, it was by far the largest and most visible element of the project. A number of challenges had to be tackled including finding a solution that was unique, sustainably and economically viable, and would enhance the architectural lines and contours of the highly engineered façade stone work.

During the concept design, two approaches for illuminating the building were studied simultaneously, the first relied on conventional inground metal halide uplights and floodlights and the second was a more revolutionary (at the time) linear in-ground high power LED system that would evenly illuminate the façade. A number of computer models and physical mock-ups at site were made to compare the two systems and to communicate the idea to the architects and the client.

The selected solution had to successfully illuminate the façade so that it could be seen from a minimum distance of 250m away for the public and close-up for the VIP guests and dignitaries visiting the building. From the mock-ups it was very clear that the traditional system of uplights and floodlights (spaced at 6m apart) would not achieve this goal as it resulted in the following adverse effects:

• The carved details in the façade of the building will be flattened out if floodlit from a distance. These details can only be seen when layers of light and shadows are present to emphasise the depth of the grooves in the façade.

• The shadows created by the architectural elements such as arches will not be evenly seen on the building.

• A single burned out lamp will create a gap of 12m of darkness which would be very visible from the viewing platforms created alongside the main roads.

• The VIPs and dignitaries would be affected by the glare from the floodlights as they walk out of the building at night time.

• Due to the low lumen output of LEDs at the time, metal halide floodlighting was not considered viable due to the large amount of power it would consume.

Therefore the selected solution was to project a linear beam of light at a precise distance away from the façade so that the shadows could be controlled. The location of the light fitting had to be closely coordinated with the landscape architects as it would run around the entire building, and coordinated with the architects on the floors above.

The scale of the Majlis dictated that the lighting had to be plentiful, varied in its form and function but beautiful to behold. There was no room for standard products in such grand surroundings. One of the principle terms in the lighting contract as per the Royal Court of Affairs criteria was that lighting manufacturers had to provide a five year limited warranty (due to the extreme heat and dusty conditions) and the qualifying companies must have been running for a minimum of ten years. Working closely with specialist lighting manufacturer Linea Light, Visual Energy designed a custom linear LED recessed in-ground solution that allowed for a small offset from the wall of only 900mm while still maintaining a uniform vertical illumination and minimal glare to the users of the space. The length of the fitting was also customised to be exactly 1,200mm so it could fit into the 4.8m grid used around the building.

Furthermore, the inground casing of the fitting allowed for running the three-phase cables and DMX within the body of the fitting, minimising the number of tapping points from the building, and the depth of the fitting was restricted to 100mm so it fits within the screed and top finish of the flooring. The fittings in the upper terraces were dimmed down to give a continuity effect to the light from the fittings in the ground. Finally a number of metal halide inground uplights were added around the main entrances of the building to emphasise the importance of these entrances when compared to the rest of the building.

Another important decision that was taken during the mock-up stage was the selection of the exact colour temperature of the inground light fittings to best illuminate the two-shade stone cladding of the building. 2,800K was finally selected as the most appropriate colour temperature and was used for all the LED fittings illuminating the façade of the building with the metal halides being 3,000K.

When the building was fully illuminated, the shadow lines were clearly visible as sharp lines seen from the 250m away roundabout and viewing platforms. The building now has a striking night-time façade and landscape set on a backdrop of the rocky Al-Hajar Mountains that can be enjoyed by the local population and visitors to the region alike.

Pics: Adam Parker –