Planning and design

My father has now retired, but during his working life he practiced as an architect. At a very early age I was taken around buildings and told to look at streets and squares and to marvel at the way they had been designed. “Study that architecture, isn’t it wonderful,” he would say. “See how the light reflects on the windows, and how the design of that building complements the one next to it.” I was generally more interested in where the next ice cream was coming from, and my dear younger sister, at the time still in her pram, simply slept through most of the day.

These experiences did have an impact on me, but I knew that I didn’t have the talent or vision to follow in my father’s footsteps. Instead, I trained in town planning and urban design, and made my way into business following those related professions. I always tried to remember from my father the characteristics of successful buildings, and how design can make places and spaces in our cities come to life.

I am deeply disappointed to see the quality of some of the new buildings being developed in Muscat. On the sand dunes at Bausher, we have the very impressive new Bahwan mosque, now nearing completion, and dominating the skyline. But have you seen some of the buildings next to it, currently under construction? They seem to be haphazardly positioned, and are just simple rectangular blocks, with punched out windows, and some of the elevations have little or no fenestration at all. How can this be? Who has allowed this to happen?

The climate of Muscat is harsh in the summer months, but I know that shading and orientation can make outdoor spaces bearable for most of the year. Not everyone wants to spend his or her leisure time in a shopping mall. The streets and squares around the Shatti cinema and at Jawarahat al Shatti should not be filled with cars – innovative planning and redevelopment could make these places for people, like Place de L’Etolie in Beirut, or Covent Garden in London. The outside area near to the fountains at Dubai Mall is another notable example.

Let us get the cars out of some of the places in this city and turn them into areas for people, with landscaping, water features and street furniture. I had the misfortune to need to travel to the north side of Wattayah for a meeting last week. I experienced a terrible mess, with the new road construction meaning that no-one seemed to be able to get where they need to go. If I was a business owner along there I would be very upset about the months of disruption. I hope that this area is not going to end up just with more tarmac, and nowhere for people to walk safely or to enjoy some outdoor leisure time.

I know that the planners in Muscat and those involved in infrastructure development generally spend time travelling and learning from best practices around the world. In my opinion, it is time for all of those involved in the planning, design, construction and control of development to ensure that there is a step–change improvement in what is built in this city. It is time to put the people first.

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