Love at first Site

Intern profile: Aseel Elagib

Aseel, Urban Planning intern at Atkins

Aseel, Urban Planning intern at Atkins

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.

Brad of Urban Planning explores the Port of Sultan Qaboos schematically with us.

Brad of Urban Planning explores the Port of Sultan Qaboos schematically with us.

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.

Peek into the Port's look on one of the Omani notes.

Peek into the Port’s look on one of the Omani notes.

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.

The beautiful Corniche Muscat

The beautiful Corniche Muscat

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.

Our very own Port Sultan Qaboos

Our very own Port Sultan Qaboos- the released masterplan proposals, courtesy : ATKINS

The masterplanthe 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 studies a port masterplan.

Aseel studies a port masterplan.

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!

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Norway of Arabia : Ahoy there!

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.

Near the Port of Khasab- I do not own this image.

Near the Port of Khasab- I do not own this image.

Getting to Khasab - I don't own this image.

Getting to Khasab – I don’t own this image.

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.

Where is Khasab?

Where is Khasab?

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.

On site.

On site.

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-

Dangerously built houses in Khasab.

Dangerously built houses in Khasab.

  • 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?
Dalal surveying a stakeholder- an Omani desert village woman.

Dalal surveying a stakeholder- an Omani desert village woman.

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 talks to some important people from the Ministry of Tourism

Dalal talks to some important people from the Ministry of Tourism

 

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.

Dalal surveys some village families in Khasab

Dalal surveys some village families in Khasab

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.

Preparing the digital masterplan file in Revit

Preparing the digital masterplan file in Revit

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.

 

Behind the Mashrabiyah

Employee profile : Sarah Elnafie

Bank Muscat Headquarters, Azaiba, Oman by Atkins

Bank Muscat Headquarters, Azaiba, Oman by Atkins

Atkins stirred the city of Muscat with its trendsetting Bank Muscat Headquarters, a few years ago. Inspired by the white grill symbols of Omani mashrabiyahs, its digitally fabricated facade is bound to stop you in your tracks.

And so is Sarah Elnafie.

Why, it’s been only two weeks that I’ve known Sarah, but it’s been such a sheer joy. This young Sudanese woman, is a recent architecture college grad and has been an associate architect at Akins for over eight months….until today. Yes, unfortunately, today is her last day at Atkins..and so this is for her. 🙂

Sarah Elnafie

Sarah Elnafie

From the very first day that I set foot into Atkins Oman, Sarah technically became my work buddy/ my intern mentor/my Atkins Big Sis/ however you call it. She showed me around my way the office, the software, the projects, the printer, you name it. More importantly, she was there to answer every little annoying question and clear every minute clarification- when you’re working on real projects, you can’t be taking risks – it’s extremely unlike architecture school studio where your projects are make-believe and have no real consequences.

Growing up here in Muscat, Oman, like me, behind the mashrabiyah, Sarah is pure talent with a heart-warming smile, who you would thoroughly look forward to working with. Like most young girls in Oman, she wishes to move few hours away to the glittering future of Dubai. One among five beautiful daughters of amazingly supportive parents, Sarah moved to Sudan for high school and architecture college. On obtaining her architecture degree from one of the country’s best, Khartoum University, she returned to Oman and was fortunate to join W.S. Atkins two months after graduation.

WHAT SARAH HAS TO SAY  TO BUDDING INTERN ARCHITECTS/ COLLEGE STUDENTS-

“I won’t lie and say that I’ve always dreamed about becoming an architect (I wanted to be a dentist!) but I ended up loving it after college and even more after graduation. My one piece of advice to you would be that even if things don’t go your way during college, that doesn’t mean it’ll define your career life- you never know what beautiful things might be waiting for you!”

Working on projects together has always been gratifying, be it printing shop drawings or designing brochures of marketing plans. What’s better, is our lunch break rants or work ‘tea-breaks’ conversations about our individual projects, our favourite people at Atkins, upcoming new restaurants in Muscat, and how are families share a parallel universe. And now, since it is time for her to go, I’ve offered to help her with making thank-you cards for her gifts for some of the senior staff.

Making of the Mashrabiyah card

Making of the Mashrabiyah card

Since, as girls of Arabia, we have a lot to thank the architectural feature of the mashrabiyah for– it protects us from a good scalding of 52 degrees Celsius these days;  AND the fact that the traditional white mashrabiyah pattern is what characterises most Omani buildings with its modern form expressed in the Atkins-designed Bank Muscat building(above); I decided upon making what we called the-Mashrabiyah Cards.

After printing them on A4 size paper and folding it, Sarah was able to make neat thank-you cards to go with the Patchi chocolates she bought for a few of our seniors. They did turn out neat!

Some Patchi to go with the Mashrabiyah cards

Some Patchi to go with the Mashrabiyah cards

Sarah has taught me two important things that I shall carry forth during my brief time here at Atkins and thereafter- PATIENCE and PERSISTENCE. That alone can assure your highest standard of work, she believes. This, in addition to her smile and work ethic is what makes her such a smooth communicator and collaborator between various people at work.  And thus I wish her all the very best! I am confident that she shall be just valuable an asset in her future workplace as she was here to us at Atkins Oman, and more importantly, a great mentor and friend.

Atkins gifts for Sarah including the Green Book.

Atkins gifts for Sarah including the Green Book.

So today, I see her off, with a heavy heart. But I am glad that she has had a great start to her architectural design career with Atkins, and that she’ll love her gifts from us all- a DKNY watch and the much-coveted Green Book – an Atkins publication of comprehensive info on all its projects- included.

So, Sarah, step out from behind the mashrabiyah and into the sun- and grace the world with your intelligence. God bless you!