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.

 

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This is my Area.

Hello July!

This week marks my second month with Atkins, and it sure spanned out differently. With the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadhan, the office always seems eerily half empty with its Muslim folk out by 2 pm. Surprisingly though- and you would think that the workload would immensely shoot up– there have been quite a few times that I have been able to actually flit through my phone or check my personal email due to work being slow!

The Money Shot!

The Money Shot!

Anyway, the week sure had a great start to it with me getting my very first paycheck. Thank you Atkins, indeed! There were also 2 lunch parties hosted by employee architects who just secured their RIBA chartered practice! The Royal Institute of British Architects, as you may or not know, is the reputed professional association of architects in the UK as well as international members. Congratulations to these guys! And by the way, you should give RIBA a quick look on its easy-to-note website-

 http://www.architecture.com/Explore/Home.aspx

So something new that I had been working on today for our principal architect, was exploring the concept of Gross Internal Area for one of our four-star hotel projects; that shall be erected at Airport Heights beside the Muscat International Airport.

For this assignment, I first tried to look up RIBA guidelines on outlining the same- and that’s when I hit upon the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)’ Code of Measuring Practice that had simple diagrams and methodical directions for the same. Evidence that I was stepping into the shoes of a quantity surveyor now!

Gross Internal Area (GIA) is the area of a building measured to the internal face of the perimeter walls at each floor level including areas occupied by internal walls and partitions.

A crude Gross Internal Area example.

A crude Gross Internal Area example.

All I had to do, was access the General Arrangement Floor Plans of the building on Revit, and shade and quantify the Gross Internal Area of each of its 8 levels. So, carefully following the RICS diagrams, I traced the area boundaries of these internal areas that needed to be measured. At the end of the day, I became more familiar with the spatial voids in the buildings and gained a sense of the interiors, what’s occupiable, what’s not. The end results were GIA diagrams that I laid out on a sheet to differentiate them from the already-prepared Gross Built-Up Area diagrams. This simple task also taught me something new- expansion joints– thus helping me understand why we have a tiny gap left between two exterior walls of a building.

A non-detailed sketch of an expansion joint.

A non-detailed sketch of an expansion joint.

An expansion joint is a structural assembly designed to safely absorb heat-induced expansions and contractions of the building material. For example, in order to save our concrete walls from developing cracks in this scorching Omani heat, expansion joints come to the rescue!

 

This was proof that a simple exercise such as this can teach you so much.

I also viewed RIBA’s Case for Space document for more information on my assignment, which you can find here. Its Appendix on the Order of Cost Estimating and Elemental Cost Planning taught me that my exercise, in professional practice is helpful in the marketing and evaluation of such building by the estate agencies, in establishing ratings and estimating building costs for the same, and property management.

Sample Area schedule

Sample Area schedule

Finally, I prepared an Area Schedule (list of areas per level) for these GIAs. Note, all these images are for sampling purposes only. 

Though work is light at this time of the year, it is always diverse in the office. As I glance at other desks and computer screens, I see two technicians cleaning up some floor plans of a hotel, a principal architect and a structural engineer meeting with a client for some luxury residences, another intern paying close attention to a junior architect’s project explanation of a sports complex, and a senior architect clarifying some construction documents with the Muscat Municipality and an exterior engineering consultant. And all this only within my limited view range!

Till then, I can’t wait to enjoy our Iftar (evening meal where Muslims break their daily fast after prayers during the Holy Month of Ramadhan) dinner staff party next week with these diverse, creative folks at the stunning Greg Norman-designed golf course at The Wave, our main indefinite project!

 

God is in the Details

Somewhere between the incessant print jobs and file type conversions this week, I’ve realised how important it is to stay focussed with all of the courseload, and ensure great work while maintaining efficiency and a good work ethic.

Phew! Where I do begin? It has been the Real Life indeed, where and when I’m not handling one mainstream project like the LODs I started off with, but handling various assignments on the side. Add to that, very Very Real Deadlines. For instance, I started off the first day of the work week, by securing a print job of close to five hundred drawings (yes, I mean the number after four-ninety-nine) of a sports academy and organising and binding the same, just in time for the clients who were arriving that afternoon. Simultaneously, I worked on preparing and refining a brochure for the four-star hotel our senior architect was working on, and planning to take copies of the brochure for an evening meeting with the client, that same day. In between all of this- of course, I awaited a multi-disciplinary check – in other words- approval from mechanical and structural engineering departments on my LODs.

Respite? Haha, I say! Phone calls to the computer technicians and responding to client emails filled in any time gap that I procured, during my wait for the printer to spool and print my files, or for my Adobe InDesign files to reload. Of course, there was the stereotypical intern assignment like restocking office supplies.

But things have gotten way busier at the firm, on account of

a) People taking their annual summer leave

b) The holy month of Ramadhan begins next month, and in this Islamic country- Muslims only work from 9 to 2 during this period.

This significantly downsizes our taskforce and increased our courseload, but the show must go on with multiplied productivity. And that’s precisely when the interns come to the rescue! 😉

Of course, it’s give-and-take. The interns are learning a LOT.  This week, I have begun working with three detailed design architects and indirectly with a building services manager– and so I have realised how MUCH goes on within a building system.

God is in the details, said Mies van der Rohe. The German architect postulated that if you wanted to create something, every detail should be addressed with great care, in order to achieve a final product of greatness.

And I have been learning it, this week.

Analysing wall sections for the first time.

Analysing wall sections for the first time.

One of the aforementioned Atkins Oman detailed design masters, showed me how he was responding to feedback from some acoustic consultants, identifying areas in a hotel that required fire-rated glass and ensuring compliances with our safety and environment certifications. He then let me work on key plans (schematic floor plans of a small scale that serve as a key to bigger drawing- a map almost!) for the same hotel with the demarcation of circulation elements of the building. Another allowed me to extract world co-ordinates for some luxury residences and prepare a table of the same. He also encouraged me to look at detailed wall sections of The Wave Retail Center that I had been working on, and sure, soon enough, I was sketching some in my new Atkins notebook to understand their functional layers. Through this, I did observe the heavy use of modern sunshades, screens, roofed balconies and brise-soleils – highly suitable for building design in a desert country like ours.

Most of all, although a large volume induces monotony, checking of technical drawing sheets that have to be readied for the building contractors; ensuring client revisions have been made, and then finalising their count, post-formatting, has allowed me to understand the importance of precision in all of the work we do.

Mecca symbol on the drawing sheet key.

Mecca symbol on the drawing sheet key.

Till then, in the spirit of Ramadhan, I’ll leave you with a detail that is unique to architect firms in the likes of the Middle East.  The Qiblah– the direction of Mecca, to which Muslims orient themselves during namaaz (prayers), manifests itself in architectural drawings besides the regular North arrow symbol.

Yes, God is in the details, literally.

Ramadhan Kareem to all my Muslim readers!

Making The Wave.

So yes indeed, I have been too busy to afford time to update this intern diary- but guess what- that is good news – I have been learning and working a lot! It’s fun and trying at the same time- but it is all worth it, really.

Well, I’ve been working on preparing Lease Outline Drawings (LODs) for  Karl, a jovial Atkins Oman architect working for one of our biggest clients- The Wave Muscat (TWM). It’s been a good two weeks on this assignment- but with the nature of work at the firm- though the LODs aren’t the only thing I have been working on- it has been my prime focus for now so get to ready hear some more about these technical drawings!

Now, now. Technical may be associated with boring. (and sometimes it may be,but hey it is really REALLY important! ) And that’s why architects may sometimes have more specific work profiles. If you’re a detailed design architect, expect to spend more time on collaborating building systems on Autodesk software- if you’re a concept architect- expect more client interaction. But really, when you work at such a diverse firm like this, although you may have a concentration, it is good to expect to be an all-rounder- only then shall you know how to co-operate in an efficient manner for the sake of project quality.

Upcoming : The Wave Retail Center

Upcoming : The Wave Retail Center

Anyway, The Wave- and really- it is THE Wave- because it is a big deal here in Oman- for it is the nation’s first luxury marina residences (you must check out the above link). The first luxury villas came up a few years ago- complete with golf courses, basic groceries and boutique hotels and now we’re expanding it with premium apartments overlooking docks- and a few other additions. And so among these, is its new Retail Center of the newest Village Block,- that shall consist of a good total of about sixty-something shops and offices; for which I have been preparing the sheets for basic floor plans, elevations, sections and reflected ceiling plans.

A Lease Outline Drawing is typically an architectural drawing of a tenant lease space which defines and dimensions the limits of the leased premises- and thus is handed over to the shop/office owner by the landlord- in this case, our client for the mall/retail center. It serves as the blueprint for the tenant to design the interiors of his newly rented space accordingly.

First off, Karl, the architect, though extremely busy, was always constantly patient- while introducing to me the concept of LODs, showing me how to prepare the same and always clarifying my doubts with much cheerfulness.

Karl looks over an LOD with me

Karl looks over an LOD with me

Then, using Autodesk Revit, I generated the other views from the general floor plans of the building’s levels from its prepared digital model. Of course, I had done something similar in architecture school, but not to this large scale- this is a real project which requires 100% accuracy – and so I was impressed with the number of times I had to make changes to the drawings before I gained Karl’s approval stamps on it! After all, Atkins has a quality standard to maintain. It was indeed a large volume of drawings that I needed to prepare- and of course, I was glad for the invention of Revit- but with much focus- I can say that the job was well done! Today, I am proud to say that for the very first time in my architect career, I had a set of official blueprints with my initials on it- for a real-life building (as opposed to make-believe projects in college). Phew! So satisfying, haha!

Also, generating Reflected Ceiling Plans- was something very new and exciting for me- as it meant working with and preparing a guide for the mechanical engineers to work within the space constraints to determine lighting, electrical facilities, plumbing, ventilation, air conditioning, fire alarm systems and power distribution- basically the building services within the space between ceilings and floors.

Annotating the drawings- in other words- completing it with side notes, construction detailing, dimensioning, labelling and room tags and what not- was what took more time than generating the actual drawing itself. But that’s where the usefulness of it lies– to assist the contractors in construction and to give the tenants a sense of the space that is theirs.

The final task was to prepare the transmittal- a detailed list of all the submitted drawings to the client- and to upload it using a private data transferring website.

Phew ! Technically tedious as it may sound, this portion of the project has taught me a valuable lesson in understanding how the client wishes to receive information, and how it is important for the architect to accurately deliver the same.

Sometimes, it does pays off to be a compulsive list-maker, a repetitive organiser and a bit nit-picky- after all it isn’t OCD, but the architect’s prime responsibility for the creation and design of the built environment.

And there you go. LOD. A Life Of Design.