Queensland Architectural firm appointed to design $120m University Project in Middle East

• Category: Education
Queensland-based architects are set to revolutionise the design of Middle Eastern higher educational facilities, following the appointment of Noel Robinson Architects’ (NRA) to design the new 120 million Australian Dollars Sohar University campus in the Sultanate of Oman, which neighbours the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Brisbane-headquartered NRA has been appointed by Sohar University to design 12 buildings within the two-hectare campus on the back of their initial master planning commission, which is worth an estimated 120 million Australian Dollars upon completion. NRA Founder, Noel Robinson, said Oman is the “sleeping giant” for sustainable development opportunities in the Middle East and NRA’s appointment to Sohar University has been a gateway to new Middle Eastern markets, culminating in the establishment of permanent design offices in Muscat and Dubai.

“Oman is a largely untapped market and our appointment to complete the university master plan and now to design the campus buildings has opened the door to a wealth of new opportunities, which is beneficial in the current global economic climate,” said Noel. “Oman is more understated than the neighbouring UAE and has a lot to offer in terms of its rich cultural heritage, natural environment, varied climate and beautiful coastline. Oman has immense potential to lead the region in sustainable development in the Middle East, particularly in integrated tourism development and education. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has set Oman on a path for sustainable development, which is a perfect fit for NRA’s design approach,” he said.

NRA’s design approach, which integrates regional cultural and educational traditions within international best- practice in educational design, campus planning and design sustainability, was the key component to winning the design work for the university buildings, according to NRA Design Manager Philip Collins.

“Our master plan design contemporises Islamic design traditions with leading international principals of campus planning and innovative environmentally sustainable design. This is the first campus design of its kind in Oman and an archetype for the region,” said Philip. “A detailed programme of design research undertaken in our Australian and Middle Eastern offices has been applied to all elements of the design and planning for the Sohar campus, which has resulted in a coherent, culturally relevant design. This was a key component for NRA winning the design work for the buildings within the new university campus.”

“Working within the climatic constraints of the site was incredibly challenging, Sohar has one of the lowest precipitation rates in the region and summer temperatures can exceed 50 degrees Celsius. Building orientation, carefully crafted envelope design, the harvesting of air-conditioning condensate and the introduction of grey-water recycling will significantly reduce the environmental loading of the campus and provide a regional benchmark that will inform future regional development,” he said.

NRA expects to complete phase one of the Sohar University building designs in early 2009, with construction to be completed by 2011.

Buildings will include a new Library, Sporting Facilities, Multi-purpose lecture theatres, Graduation Hall, Faculty Buildings for Engineering, Business, Health Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities, Administration, Student Services and post-graduate residences.

NRA has collaborated with the University of Queensland during the design for the campus buildings, liaising closely with Professor Ray Volker, Academic Director of International Programs and former Foundation Vice Chancellor for Sohar University.

“The design completed by NRA is bold yet appropriate to the Omani environment. It also complements existing infrastructure within the campus,” said Ray.

“The appointment of Brisbane-based NRA is testament to the firm’s understanding and appreciation of both the Omani business and architectural culture and is set to further strengthen international relations between Queensland University and Sohar University,” he said.

About NRA (Noel Robinson Architects)

NRA has been widely recognised for setting benchmarks in innovative architecture, interior design and planning for the past 35-plus years in Australia and internationally. Headquartered in Brisbane, the firm also has offices on the Gold Coast, Dubai and Muscat.