I’ve been wanting to do this forever. And I apologise that I’ve been away for almost two months (for something called college/architecture school). Maybe I can get better at blogging during the academic year. Maybe.
Visiting The Wave Muscat (TWM), Oman’s first luxury residences has been on my Summer 2014 list of things-to-do (visit). Let’s be real, it takes a huge pot of gold coins in order to be able to live here. But luxury is luxury and that’s what makes visiting luxury even more irresistible!
This summer, during my ATKINS internship, I had the brilliant opportunity to work on The Wave Retail Center, which happened to be my maiden project- and I have mentioned it here earlier. Somewhere between corresponding with our Wave client, and working on the construction documents for the building, I longed to visit the actual site while the building was 80% through construction. And so, my last week of the summer – mid-August- I finally made it.
So here’s a rendering of the property that comes up in newspaper advertisements- supplied by ATKINS.
Although, it gets even more special to see the work of your hands in real life.
Everything from the pointed arches and stone cladding to the wooden screens and roofs and the avenue of date palms, resonated with familiarity, so much so that I decided to explore more Wave projects.
It’s time to look at what makes The Wave, the Wave : its luxury residence, newer ones I spotted, growing by artificial catchments.
And the newest addition to the The Wave? Neat apartment blocks just by the marina.
And here’s what they may end up looking like : courtesy : ATKINS
Even a Kemplinski hotel (not pictured) is making its way here. But the Marsa waterfront apartments are a definite visit.
Just as it is in the rendering (courtesy : ATKINS)!
Undeniably so, The Wave Muscat, replete with waterfront apartments, luxury villas, a retail center, marina, golf course, and soon, a hotel — is bound to manifest itself as the continually happening madinat (Arab town) in the most modern sense possible! And one day, I can’t wait to go back and work on one of its indefinite projects again. 😀
Intern profile: Aseel Elagib
Two weeks have gone by and boy, do I miss everything about working at Atkins. Be it the design and planning opportunities that come across my way for the sheer love of being busy or even just the sound of my clackety heels as they make frequent trips to the photocopier.
But before I move on to other intern conquests, I’d like to take a walk down memory lane back to Atkins, one more time. Here I’ll delve into a little more about my time with Urban Planning, and more so with a friend that I had made at work- a new intern to the Urban Planning Department, Aseel Elagib.
Into my last week at Atkins, the Discipline Head of Urban Planning, Brad- was kind enough to give Aseel and I, a crash training on the subject of Port Redevelopment through the process of site analysis and thereafter masterplan phase- implementation. Don’t you worry, I can start to explain these!
Our site was none other than the beautiful Port Sultan Qaboos, Oman’s main commercial port, home to even the Sultan’s ships. So really the first step we explored was the project vision and site context- that His Majesty no longer wanted purely a commercial port; and also that it had to be grand enough to stand to compete with the UAE’s superior ports. Another related step was identifying the possible stakeholders and getting in touch with them- such as the Ministries of Tourism, Fisheries, Transport and Communication, etc.
This continued to help us identify the basic urban fabric of the area- the heritage neighbourhood of Old Muttrah, navigation channels, security for the Royal Yacht, petrochemical exports, the touristy views of the Muscat Corniche etc, and accordingly suggest redevelopment strategies such as possible widening of existing berths, cruise opportunities, improving parking facilities in such a narrow, populated area, upgrading of the waterfront promenade, pedestrian allowances, you name it.
Indeed, lot of foresight goes into such a task, especially when you have the ultimate power to make or break a city’s economy with the uphill task of remastering its main port. Nothing can be overlooked, everything from economics to politics to climate must be considered. And one must never forget to always give anything the benefit of doubt, in other words, question any strategy before it actually gets implemented and affects the city’s population. For example, a few stakeholders wondered how the problem of our ultra-intense Middle Eastern heat could be solved. Our answer? Sunscreens for building façades, parking shades and vegetation can always do the job. A neat job, that too.
The masterplan– the statutory land use plan that guides the redevelopment of the project, the Port of Sultan Qaboos, in this case- is always subject to various modifications- not just because of design but how it turns out to mesh well with the rest of the existing landscape- and that’s why implementation for redevelopment has to happen in phases and never all at once! In our case especially, not just wave engineering needs to be considered but also how a modern interpretation of a local and traditional Omani flavour can be integrated.
Aseel, who grew up in Canada but is originally from Sudan, is in her final year of Urban Planning and Architectural Design at the German University of Technology here in Oman. Like Sarah Elnafie, she wished to be a dentist but an urban planning course in high school changed everything. She’s also gotten to visit the Port with Atkins and other sub-consultants. Here’s what she has to say about her time at Atkins so far–
“As the years went by, I noticed that my interest slightly swerved towards urban planning rather than architecture. I think this is because working on the urban scale doesn’t limit my imagination and design as much as in the architectural scale. I still love to do both, but urban got my complete interest. I’ve only worked in Atkins for 3 weeks now, and I love the team I’m working with so far. They’re dedicated, ambitious, and love the work they’re doing. Working with them so far has expanded my knowledge, and I learned from them that you have to be patient and driven at the same time in order to get the work done. On Monday the 21st of July, I went on a site visit to PSQ with the project co-ordinator,Dave. It was an amazing experience to be able to visit the site and to see for real what we’re working with. It was Atkins, and 6 other companies competing for the site, or teaming up. I met great people, and visiting the site deficiently gave me an understanding as to what was previously talked about in the master plan”.
What more can I say? I stepped into an Atkins to work for building design, but got to help out with redeveloping the city- so much more! Like Aseel, my attention too has been arrested greater with Urban Planning now. It’s things like these that make an internship even more rewarding and I can’t thank Atkins enough!
Did I mention that this is my last week with Atkins? Unfortunately, tomorrow marks my last day at the firm, and I know I am going to miss what has been an integral part of my summer of 2014.
But in my effort to gain an all-rounded experience during my time at Atkins, I ventured into Project Management last week, and no, even the Excel sheets and Venn diagrams could not turn me off.
A deadline that costs :
Towards the end of last week, I was able to help my design manager work on a last-minute submission of a bid worth millions of Omani rials- and that’s when you realise the significance of working overtime for an urgent weekend deadline. Time is money!
So, just as you see people go, “One thousand”, “two thousand”, “five thousand”, “SOLD!” at an auction; well, projects in the real estate world work the same way- you bid for them! And so begun my first experience with bidding presentation- I helped two of the senior architects develop a package of bid documents thus managing the preparation of charts for-
- USPs or keyword objectives for the Project vision
- organisation of the Proposed Design Team
- outline of design review stages
- firm’s portfolio of Selected Works in similar projects
This indeed gave me a clear understanding of how we employ external resources through outsourcing of other Atkins branches as well as sub-consultants to provide a wholesome end result. Truly, this reminded of the combination of charrettes/design competitions and design jury in college; only this has a more real, more final touch. Winning work, is of course, necessary.
I also picked up on the basics of ‘staffing projections‘ in Resource management, while working with the Assistant Project Manager. This was an interesting task alright- as I got to individually meet with the Departmental Heads or Discipline Leads (structural/ mechanical /electrical/ architectural) and discuss with them how the taskforce under them were performing, who is expected to be working on what project and till when, how much is one person putting in per week,etc. Based on the compilation of this data, we were then able to generate productivity graphs for these human resources for up until December! Getting an in into how things run in a large consultancy like this, and how project budgets and resources are handled simultaneously, is always very helpful. (The above also tells you why you must never fool around in the workplace- you’re being reported about, regularly by your Discipline Head) 😉
I guess the last thing, Head Project Manager asked of me, in my last week here, was to orally and graphically present to the Discipline Heads as well as the Architectural team about my two-month stint with Atkins Oman- and so that happens tomorrow, on my last day here. For this purpose, I did prepare a project timeline (above) that shows the extent of projects (live jobs) and managerial tasks (project management) across the 3 separate disciplines (architecture, planning and management) that I had worked with, with the diameter of the circle representing the amount of time and work spent with the same.
Sometimes when one is so caught up designing and thinking of solutions, one must think of how these are enabled- what the property business is all really about, and how it is handled. Here’s where a superhero called Project Management comes to the rescue!
Employee Profile : Dalal Darwish
Growing up in Oman, I thus, have always harboured a love for all things ocean and mountain and desert. It’s a lovely combination, no doubt- and that obviously reflects in the design projects that I embark on.
Upon joining the Urban Planning Department two weeks ago as I have always harboured a love for planning things on a large city-scale, I met my match in the redevelopment/expansion of the Port of Khasab. Khasab is your small desert town encased in mountains that meet breathtaking fjords home to playful dolphins.
Getting there is, well, interesting as you have to end up either ferrying from the rest of Oman or driving across the UAE to get there- but the vision for the port expansion comes from the Oman government’s goal of attracting economic, tourist and social investment. In the past, due to it being hardly 600km away from the Iranian border it was used to smuggle cigarrettes from Iran- but today this remote town attracts adventure and eco- tourists to the rugged beauty of its coastal landscape, adding spice to the lives of the local fishermen and mineral exporters. Khasab is indeed so beautiful that it has been called the Norway of Arabia or even the Anti-Dubai.
Well, my first step was to get acquainted with the project proposal reports handed to me by my new boss, Head Urban Planner at Atkins Oman. It is important to note that there’s never really a deadline when it comes to designing infrastructure- it is all implemented in phases. After briefing myself with the phase reports, I got to view the site photographs, the site survey studies and other technical studies performed such as bathymetric (underwater equivalent of topography- sea level depths) studies by other consultants.
The above gave me an understanding on how to critique not just the site, but to identify possible problem areas for the project such as-
- Is this port going to be either just tourist or commercial or mixed-use?
- If it does become commercial, then would it be enough to compete with some of the world-class UAE ports like Fujairah and Dubai ? Do we intend this?
- How are we going to benefit the interests of the local fishermen who are the main inhabitants?
- Does the issue of border security with Iran (close proximity) come under our jurisdiction as planners or do we leave it to the Royal Oman Police?
- How can we use our expansion design to bring flavour to the simple desert homes or the heritage fort- Khasab fort?
- Marine engineering- how can that play a role? Stormwater drainage, creation of waterfront hotels, breakwaters, quay walls, etc?
- Won’t clearing mountains for creation of more residential space go against our sustainability ideal?
True, I love learning oceanic terminology this way- and that’s the amazing part of this all-rounded discipline- learning everything! My next step was being introduced to the Social Development Consultant, Dalal Darwish, our expert in Stakeholder Management.
Dalal’s responsibility is indeed one of a kind– she gets to go out to the rural remote areas and talk to those of the community that shall be directly affected by our project implementations- and also meet with various governmental departments- in this case, the Ministry of Transport and Communication (MoTC)- our main client. She was kind enough to explain to us (Aseel the other planning intern and I) how she identifies these stakeholders, obtain information from their questionnaires and respond to their feedback. After all, as planners, we have to be democratic as we hold great power in changing the way the urbanscape looks.
Aseel and I engaged in brainstorming solutions for Oman’s poor pedestrian-friendly status with Dalal while we hoped to obtain training in more phase implementation and solving of circulation issues. However, it was time for me to now to get to some work. By studying some CAD files of the site that we obtained from the Royal Planning Council, I observed the senior planning technician digitally develop a masterplan proposal for the port, with a phase-specific approach. Thus I was able to see how analysing existing site conditions could help us arrive at a proposed design.
Then I fully took over as I linked these CAD files to create 3D models of the port platform and existing buildings in Autodesk Revit- this shall now serve as a base file for the civil engineers to carry out the detailed design phase for the port infrastructure. Much as demolition breaks my heart, these files will also be able to guide us as to what buildings need to be wiped out in order to fit our proposal and where we can relocate them between the mountains.
Urban planning feels like a good fit, and I can’t wait to tell you more about what I have learnt these last few weeks. But with Khasab, I know that it was love at first site.
It is surprising how minor details bring large changes.
My technical change detail of the week was that some of the Lease Outline Drawings that I sent to our client for The Wave Retail Centre did not get sent through because apparently they already had drawings with the same drawing sheet numbers. So then began a series of changes to be made for the re-submission- I had to first figure out new number codes for the sheets, then put them on there both digitally and in print, create new soft copies of the same and create a CD of the same as well, re-print the sheets with new numbers, again obtain background checks, approval stamps and signatures on the newly updated drawing list from the respective property directors and project managers- and then at last re-send the new digital binder back to the client.
Phew! All for a number. And numbers do matter.
Especially at a giant firm like this, you simply can’t go wrong. Accuracy is key, and there is always one person to remind us of the same.
Marco, our Managing Director, an extremely humble man, never fails to blow you away with his bubbly personality. Sometimes we do have lunch presentation meetings where he introduces new concepts of work ethics and design efficiency so as to promote unity of such a large firm like this. Moreover, he constantly reminds us that in our approach towards our clients, we must strive to be their consultant of choice.
One such presentation meeting was about stakeholder management (watch out for more on this, later)- big terms for me to grasp initially but inspiring nevertheless. But I guess the interesting part came when he sat across for me for lunch and asked me how I was enjoying my time at Atkins- and went on to introduce me to the Head of Urban Planning- something I have always been interested in. And sure enough, last week, I began my tenure with the Urban Planning Development- to work on something too exciting for words- at least, for this blog entry. 😉
Later that day, he asked me to perform a simple task for him- prepare organisation charts of the firm’s human resources as well as chart for the proposed design team for a new bid. Organisation charts, trust me, in the design world, are just another sample of design at a rudimentary level. It may have seemed intimidating to work directly for the MD at first, for a simple task though, but it taught me a thing or two about the Atkins hierachy, how the project is managed within the firm as well as with external consultant such as an interior design company, or acoustic engineering consultant, etc, and how project work is split among the various departments, such as structural/mechanical/electrical engineering, infrastructure, architecture, etc (You may click on the pictures to view the enlarged detailed versions in a new tab).
The charts were for an imminent presentation he had to give the next day- and so I can say that day was my first overtime in the office, which wasn’t that bad at all. The number of changes that had to be made, the re-prints, all of that taught me how to serve two masters (the MD and the Head Design Manager) and find some middle ground between their respective design preferences. Yes, you know you’re making critical design compromises when Boss Number One likes colourful charts with rectangles and Boss Number Two likes a minimalistic rounded rectangle look.
Every month, Marco sends out a brief staff newsletter, the ATOM (as in ATkins OMan) to keep us in the loop about the firm’s activities, new employees, etc. He did make for a good work break when he shared with us a video clip that clearly summarises our plight with impossible design bosses or clients, in this month’s issue.
I’m sure it’ll make you smile too, so be sure to check this fun video clip which you shall totally get if you are in this field or similar- so check it out here!
Sure, I have been quite fortunate to work for Marco in my brief time here at Atkins, and I’ve also been co-ordinating with him for a project bid (more on this later, too!) that we are submitting this week. Especially fortunate when this firm is huge. As in the world’s third largest.
But the number of employees isn’t as apparent as it is during fire drills, two of which we’ve had this week. While we wait in the scorching heat for the safety manager to give us the all clear, it is a pretty good reminder of how each one of us individually seem like an insignificant part but efficiently move mountains (literally here, in Oman where we clear our mountains to develop property) together as a huge design team.
Plan Design Enable, the Atkins strapline might just as well become my professional motto. After all, isn’t that how we should go about on a project? Systematically plan the course of action on the site to be taken, design a solution for it- and then enable the final built-up version.
Last week was indeed splendid as I got the chance to work with our principal architect in carrying out the purest responsibility that we may have as an architect- coming up with a concept for the design of a building. But before I delve into that any further, let me narrate how I even got there.
For those of you who may recall my first blog entry, my first assignment at Atkins was to just tweak the graphics of a client-centric marketing brochure for a four-star hotel in Ghala, Muscat. Well, now it was time for the principal architect to have a last-minute-announced update meeting with the client of this hotel- and so our principal wasn’t going to leave without a neat guideline of a brochure to aid his concept explanation to the client.
Ah well, making a brochure for an imaginary building can be simple, can’t it? Just put in some Google images of hotel interiors and some key words like ‘brilliant ambience‘ , ‘distinctive appearance‘ and ‘strategic location’ and you’re good to go, right? I wish.
Preparing this brochure was harder than I thought- and I wasn’t alone- the other two interns helped me procure some of our advertising images while I worked on the co-ordination of pictures with text, page design and organisation of the overall layout. This definitely taught me a thing or two about serious teamwork when Murphy’s Law (All things that can go wrong, will) seemed to verify itself. But even Adobe design software glitches, computer memory crashing and the printer running out of yellow cartridge could not and would not deter us. We had a real client deadline within an hour, and here we were starting a brochure from scratch.
Of course, we had a general template from a previous hotel project that we could be inspired from- and that’s always good. Things to remember to include in a marketing brochure to a hotel client-
- Project vision and introduction
- Site location, local context, site views, adjacent uses
- Master plan strategy and project key concepts
- Various design elements of the hotel, various hotel facilities, room views and types
- Technical stuff- floor plans, room plans, elevations, sections
- Renderings/ visualisations of the project
Obviously, there is no strict order for these various elements of the presentation, but they are all quite essential to be brought up while meeting with a client who is only just learning to expect what you can do-and-design for him or her.
As far choosing images was concerned, boy, did we have a lot to work with. It’s all about knowing what to look for, based on the client comments (our client did not want the typical heavy red-and-gold royal feel for the hotel’s interiors) and employing the Google Images search tool. Here’s where interior design stepped in- we looked for lighting design, furniture upholstery, material samples and matching palettes for the same, thus responding to our possibly challenging client’s tastes.
Images of rooms with balconies facing the sea at a distance, with lighter marine-themed interiors soon made their way into the project. It is interesting, of course to see how the client feedback can inform your design and how you may please them using various precedents (in our case, from our principal’s Building design Atlas) to inspire yourself as well as the client.
It was time for our principal to leave for his client meeting. Off he left, with the brochure, and back he was, with a smile, suggesting few changes that had to be made- both in the marketing brochure as well as in the actual design of the building.
And here comes the thrilling part– he asked my assistance for the latter! We brainstormed ways of how we could relieve the current boxy matrix look of the façade and how we could better the look of the balcony sunscreens. A few days later, he had the updated renderings out- and I was bowled over. He had taken one of my design suggestions!
Though the building form is still evolving in concept, and I may be a mere college-going intern, I guess I can now say that I have a design idea reflected in an actual building. My very own idea. In a real building. How neat!
So yes, I was equally pleased when he also showed me what he was thinking of for building materials for the daylighting louvers. I guess it is pretty decent work when you discuss with your boss how fabric-made louvers with aluminium coating are better than regular glass louvers; because cost can meet efficiency when your client is loaded.
Needless to say, I can’t be pumped enough when this building is actually completed a few years from now. It may be my first architectural baby, alright. Especially in a small young country like this, you might as well be proud as your projects are distinct enough to guarantee lifestyle change. And that’s why it is also important to boost Oman tourism when your designing a marketing brochure for a new upcoming hotel in Oman.
Till then, I have something else to be pumped about. Let’s see how Messi’s Argentina pit themselves against Team Germany in the FIFA ’14 World Cup Final tonight!