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.