The New Parliament of Oman

  • projecturban design2008Musqat, Omanwith Mark Saade
    architecture, landscaping, institutional, public, competition


    The New Parliament (NPO) has to act as an efficient space of administration and protocol of course, but it also has to fulfil a more extrovert role, addressing local, national, and international dimensions.
    At the international dimension, the NPO will be recognised through media and tourists eyes, and official publications and so has to express a double pride in the ancient traditions and in the progressive modernity of the Sultanate, the cultures of its land and the sound rule of its institutions.
    At the national dimension, the NPO should be recognised as a symbol of centralised rule, of national unity, and of formal yet accessible authority. Of course, by definition it is a podium for the people of Oman through their elected representatives. It is also a major interface between the Sultan and his people.
    At the local dimension, the NPO will be a major presence in the region, inspiring architectural and economic development, and catalysing the flow of locals and visitors to the area. Our design welcomes the public, particularly into its themed landscaped gardens, and proves that a formal building need not be monotonous, but can provide its users and visitors with many interesting and varied architectural and spatial and social moments.
    Rich in metaphor and symbolism, the whole design stems from our appreciation of the cultural and geographical diversity of the Sultanate’s wide territory.

    The Landscape


    The Site as a Metaphor for the Sultanate of Oman

    We imagined that our site is a microcosm of the Oman territory. Its boundaries represent the nation’s borders; its relief represent the nation’s mountains and deserts and wadis; the road network around it, is like the seas and oceans that link Oman to its neighbours; and the gates of access to and from the site are in effect similar to the famed ports of Oman. Internal networks between these gates represent the scenic caravan routes that criss-crossed the country for centuries.
    This essential realisation drives the site development process, giving it a strong conceptual and symbolic backbone.
    Based on the administrative division of Oman into 9 governorates and regions, we have imagined our site as zoned into 9 sectors, each representing a typical characteristic of the original landscape, tradition, or history.
    At the heart of the territory lies the symbolic and effective authority of HM Sultan Qaboos. This is represented by placing his entrance and quarters, and in particular his seat in the Majlis Oman Assembly Chamber dais at the exact centre of the site. It becomes the point of reference and the epicentre for the development of the project.
    A first axis links the Sultan’s quarters and seat to the main gate off the roundabout. This main gate is named Bab Salalah, in honour of one of Oman’s greatest ports and the birthplace of HM. This becomes the axis of symmetry upon which the whole formal aspect of the project will be organised.
    A second axis intersects the first perpendicularly also at the seat of HM. This provides the transversal order of the project.
    The formal authority is represented by a simple grid formed by the two above axis, and spread out on the site. It permits highly rational and clear development. A symmetrical yet flexible formality follows.

    The Landscaping as a Metaphor for the Cultural and Geographical Diversity of the Sultanate

    The “grid” superposed on the site becomes a patchwork of natural and man-made materials creating a formal landscape.
    This patchwork then interferes with the 9 sectors of the site, creating localised variations that are linked by a network of flows, from irrigation and reflection pools connected through a series of canals reminiscent of Oman’s famous falaj, to pedestrian promenades through lush indigenous gardens and themed landmarks.
    (For example the sector representing Ad-Dhofar is planted with colourful fragrant trees and flowers reminiscent of Salalah’s proud exports; the boat that currently sits in the middle of the roundabout is relocated to the part of our site that represents Sur and its shipyards. It becomes a landscape feature and a visitor attraction; similarly, visitors are able to climb to the top of a preserved small rock outcrop at the northern edge of the site, it is a viewing platform representative of the Jabal Akhdar, Oman’s highest peak, in Al-Batina,…)
    Another gate lies to the south near the mouth of the wadi, between the main mountain and another natural outcrop we have preserved. We refer to it as Bab Suhar, and it provides a general everyday access to the site: Members of parliament, admin and service staff, general public, and goods and deliveries, with the technical compound nearby.
    A particularly important sector is the longitudinal sector at the heart of the site, on the transversal axis. Representing the high urban density of Musqat and its region, this is where the main bulk of the the Parliament buildings are developed. The landscaping here is treated like formal palm-lined avenues which are also the access routes for Members of the Upper and Lower Houses on either side of the site, through Bab Musqat to the North and Bab Duqm to the South.

    The Buildings


    The general massing concept is designed to create “accessible formality”. Accessible formality is defined by a powerful volumetric clarity and symmetry that is balanced by sweeping lines and horizontality representative of open boundaries and embracing movement. In effect, it is the intersection between the forbidding fort-like architecture of Oman with its refined hospitality, the overlap between a centralised government and a just and loved rule.
    The overall effect is that of a fort-like wall bridging between two mountains and protecting three gem-like volumes.


    The massing is in fact made up of three simple types of elements: thick fort-like walls, clean volumes, and horizontal shading planes. Inspired by the elegance and sobriety of the architecture of Oman, these create a highly readable project functionally, with additional layers of symbolism and metaphor possible. For example, one reading sees the building complex as a development of the elements of the Sultanate’s emblem: the Khanjar becomes the main Majlis Oman, central, flanked by the two boxes that become the Lower and Upper House Chambers, and the swords spread out on either side to become the wall-like buildings housing the administrative functions. The Crown becomes the gem-like mosque between the Majlis and the mountain, or the Sultan’s entrance.

    In fact, the whole building complex changes in reading depending on the point of view of the visitor.
    From the roundabout Sultan’s entrance, the building is a fortified palace with a formal symmetry and grandiose approach.
    From the sides, it is an open and welcoming complex grown under the protection of the mountains and a fortress like wall.
    From the general entrance through the wadi, the complex is a secret fort hidden between rocks and palm groves, including a small jewel-like mosque at its entrance.
    From afar, it is a spectacular dam that holds back the power of the mountain and clears a fertile plain in front of it…

    Functions and Circulation

    In reality, the massing is a clear expression of the functional components of the schedule. It is a very legible solution to a very complex programme.
    The Majlis Oman is at the centre of the composition flanked by the Lower and Upper Houses Chambers and Administrative Wings. Above and below are public and services equally accessible from both sides of the symmetry.
    The Majlis Oman Assembly Chamber is actually a garden roofed smaller volume sitting within a box made up of carved planes. Vertical screens of patterned cut stone act like musharabiyyahs that shade the glass walls of the Majlis Oman itself, hidden behind them.
    A giant canopy, its underside carved woodwork reminiscent of Oman’s old palaces creates a covered porte cochere for the Sultan & VVIP quarters entrance.  It extends over the other end of the central volume creating another shade over the Members Entrance to the Assembly Hall. It further shades the rooftop garden accessible from a top floor cafeteria/restaurant open to public and staff.
    Between the Majlis and the mountain, in the middle of a palm grove and terminating the main axis of the project is a small mosque for 250 people with its amenities.
    On each side of the Majlis, both wings are essentially similar:
    1. The main House Chamber, accessible by members from outside from the east and from inside through the circulation loops that wrap around a main open courtyard. From one side of the Chamber is the VVIP platform, accessible from the Sultan’s quarters or from outside under a shaded canopy. From the other side is the public platform, and between both is the press platform. Both are accessible from the public entrance under the passage from the palm grove.
    2. The Administrative Wing with its different components occupies three building “modules” of around 30x30 meters each with an open courtyard/atrium bringing light down to the heart of each module. The courtyard/atrium effectively further permits separation of the departments from east-facing (landscaped plain) or west-facing (palm grove). Presidents and Secretary Generals offices overlook the beautiful courtyards between the Majlis and the House.
    3. On the ground floor of the Administrative Wing, are Common and Dining facilities, Administation, Staff, and Public entrances; a service support zone, and a covered passage stepping down from the palm grove to the landscaped plain.
    4. Beyond the first three building modules, two (can be extended to three) modules are designed as multi-storey Car Parking, with 4 levels of 32 cars each, giving 128 cars per module totalling at least 512 efficient shaded parking positions for the project (in addition to VVIP parking, provided at the flanks of the Porte Cochere).

    At the intersection between the Administrative wings wall and the Majlis axis, the ground floor is occupied by the Members Hall and entrance through the palm grove, the first floor by the Committee and Delegation Rooms, and the Assembly Hall, the second by Head of Committee Offices mezzanine, the third by a technical floor and the roof level by the Common Cafeteria/Restaurant. In the basement level (lower ground level) is the Kitchen and Staff Support Facilities.

    Finally, at the Southern end of the site, in the extension of the “wall” building, is a module occupied by the Services Compound with its service yard.



    In designing the New Parliament of Oman, we have been careful to fully grasp not only the programmatic requirements of the schedule, but equally the symbolic importance of a building bound to become one of the major emblems and landmarks of the Sultanate.
    The result is a multi-faceted complex that addresses the Protocols and Formalities of the system, while introducing elegant and effective solutions to the distribution of Sultan, VVIP, Members, Admin and Staff, and Public functions and circulation networks and their control.
    With a simple massing and intricate detailing highly influenced by the architectural and spatial tradition of Oman, a landscape concept based on the diversity of geographies and cultures of its territory and people, this project is clear, rational, yet symbolic and poetic.
    It will provide the Sultanate with another proud architectural achievement in line with the historic monuments of Nizwa or Masqat, the marvellous Sultan’s Palace, the ceremonial accessibility of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, and the elegance of the Izz Fort Palace.