September 18, 2017 - Allies and Morrison - Madinat al Irfan: An Urban Centre in Oman
e-flux Architecture
September 18, 2017
September 18, 2017

Allies and Morrison

Drawing of Irfan, a new urban district.

Madinat al Irfan
An Urban Centre in Oman
September 20–October 20, 2017

Private view: September 21, 6–9pm

Allies and Morrison
85 Southwark Street
London SE1 0HX
United Kingdom
Hours: Monday–Friday 10am–5pm
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In an exhibition held at Allies and Morrison's Bankside studios in London, the design for Madinat al Irfan, a new city in Oman, will be shared for the first time to an international public through drawings, sketches and models. A set of essays by key designers on the project—Alfredo Caraballo, Nicholas Choy, Sowmya Parathasarathy, Graham Morrison and Kim Wilkie—will also be released.

Leaving behind the anxiety of producing something intrinsically new, Madinat al Irfan aims to produce something so often elusive in modern urbanism—a place that feels as if it had always been there. Commissioned by Omran—the Sultanate of Oman's national master developer of major tourism, heritage and urban assets—the masterplan provides the foundation for an entirely new urban district which will be an extension to the capital city of Muscat. The now largely empty site's main existing feature is a 25 km long wadi, a riverine valley typical to the region’s landscape. The wadi will be retained, evolving naturally into a new central park and the world’s largest natural falaj aquaculture system, a vernacular method of irrigation. The project embraces Oman's culturally-grounded approach to growth as a catalyst for wider progressive change. Given the scale of new building it will involve—with a living, working and visiting population of 280,000—its sheer size will enable such a paradigm shift, influencing urban design in Oman, the region and beyond. The masterplan exemplifies many of the ambitions set out in the New Urban Agenda adopted recently at UN Habitat III, addressing a range of challenges from housing to happiness, offering a visionary and implementable alternative to the car-dominated, resource-hungry and identikit urbanism of the last three decades.

The aim has been to get the ordinary right - the streets and details, the spaces in between, the buildings and places for day-to-day life—and in so doing, leave the extraordinary moments to take care of themselves. As a landscape-led masterplan, the main urban strategy is devised from the actual landform and the compositional approach behind the design is decidedly picturesque. New development will be compact and walkable, place-specific and climate appropriate, taking inspiration from historic Omani settlements, built at a human scale. Food security and productive agriculture, walkability made possible by shading, and an abiding tension between informality and formality are all important components. And through a series of carefully composed measures, the pieces come together to cut carbon emissions, car reliance and water use by half against business as usual. A comprehensive set of design codes and recommendations for a new planning system aims to ensure these sustainable aspirations are embedded in policy.

Madinat al Irfan has been commissioned by Omran. The project team is Allies and Morrison (masterplanning and urban design); Arup (infrastructure, transport, environment and landscape), Kim Wilkie (landscape), RLB (cost consultant) and Angus Gavin (urban design advisor). Design advice has been provided by Design Council Cabe with Peter Oborn as RIBA/Cabe client advisor. The project was first awarded via an invited competition run by RIBA Competitions.

The exhibition is open to the public, weekdays, from 10am-5pm at the Allies and Morrison studios, 85 Southwark Street, London.

Those interested in learning more should contact press [​at​]

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An Urban Centre in Oman
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