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Why this spectacular complex could become Oman’s ‘cultural magnet’

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What is currently just a plot of rocky, undeveloped land is set to become an oasis of culture in Oman’s capital, Muscat.

The Oman Cultural Complex, designed by French firm Architecturestudio, will consist of the new National Theatre, National Library and an exhibition center, and cover 70,000 square meters upon completion.

Taking inspiration from the nearby landscape, the roof is made from modular lightweight steel, designed with a rippling shape inspired by sand dunes. Architecturestudio says that 6,000 trees from local species such as palm and citrus will be planted, encircling the buildings with a green canopy that provides natural shading and wind protection.

Spaces between the buildings and gaps in the roof are designed to improve air flow, reducing the need for air conditioning. They will also help cool the central plaza, a feature inspired by the traditional courtyards often found in houses in Oman and elsewhere in the region.

The complex will include a central plaza, drawing on the courtyards traditionally found in homes in the region, shown in this rendering. - ArchitectureStudio
The complex will include a central plaza, drawing on the courtyards traditionally found in homes in the region, shown in this rendering. - ArchitectureStudio

Roueïda Ayache oversees most Architecturestudio projects in the Middle East, including previous designs such as the Bahrain National Theatre, opened in 2012, and Jordan’s Amman Rotana Tower. She believes that the Cultural Complex will become a key attraction in Muscat. “We want to enchant people, to enhance their daily lives,” she said.

She explains that the buildings will be separate, but united under a single roof. “We are creating a sense of space with these three buildings instead of three separate entities. It’s the deep meaning of this project, that is the cultural magnet.”

“It has to be appealing for tourists, for international residents and for national residents,” Ayache added.

The project was commissioned by Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and the architects hope that construction will begin at the end of 2024, with the complex set to be built next to various government buildings and situated between Muscat International Airport and the city center.

The country is looking to reshape several social and economic areas as part of its Oman Vision 2040, and a new structural plan has been laid out for the Greater Muscat area.

A rendering of the new National Theatre. - ArchitectureStudio
A rendering of the new National Theatre. - ArchitectureStudio

René-Henri Arnaud is the partner architect in charge of the Cultural Complex, and for him, a crucial aspect is its practicality. “We don’t want just the building, we want a real area to organize festivals, different events,” he said. “It’s designed as a cultural village.”

The new National Theatre will host events ranging from local plays to dance and opera, with the venue adjusting lights and seating accordingly. Arnaud adds that the National Library “will be a multimedia library, not just for students but international visitors.”

There is no definitive completion date as yet for the complex.

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