Snøhetta marries culture with commerce, tourism and heritage

MUTTRAH, Oman – The landscape of Oman is utterly unique – desert terrain combined with long coastlines, mountains in a multitude of earth tones, with a blue sky that extends out to an endless horizon.

The list of reasons to visit the Sultanate has grown thanks to Snøhetta’s Muttrah Fish Market: a new 4,000-sq-m fish market designed to cater to the local fishermen as well as well-travelled tourists, built next to the original fish market from the 1960s. The formal language of the building is an homage to Muttrah – located West of Muscat, the capital of Oman – in a fluid and layered continuation of the surrounding water. Louver upon louver, the shading system curves and covers the marketplace, attached restaurant and alfresco seating in a radial fashion.

Great care was taken to integrate Oman’s cultural heritage with the contemporary architecture, as can be seen in the details of the façade and structure that take the fluidity of Arabic calligraphy as a point of reference. The architectural language flows like a swift and elegant brushstroke against the natural landscape.

Robert Greenwood, project manager at Snøhetta, elucidates on the project’s relationship with its context and speculates on the future of Omani architecture.

How did you approach the design of the Muttrah Fish Market?
ROBERT GREENWOOD: The Muttrah Fish Market is more than just a traditional marketplace – it is also the main tourist attraction in the city, and is on the tourist route from the cruise ships to the souk. The design addresses the combined challenge of creating a local market that is hygienic and efficient whilst preserving the traditional character and charm of the place. New components such as the rooftop fish restaurant add to the opportunities for tourism while maintaining the essential market function.

What were the design considerations taken towards the climate?
The climate in Oman is a defining element in the design of the Fish Market. To preserve the traditional feel of a market, no air conditioning has been installed. Comfort is achieved through traditional means, with architecture that promotes natural ventilation. The entire market is covered by a shaded canopy that allows for air movement whilst shading the structure and surrounding areas from the direct sun.

There is a genuine ambition in Oman to respect their cultural heritage and to build in a manner that compliments the urban fabric of the city

Both the tourism industry and the number of built environments in Oman are growing exponentially. How did this impact your design process?
Whilst tourism is expanding rapidly in the Sultanate, Oman has refrained from some of the architectural excesses of its neighbours. There is a genuine ambition in Oman to respect their cultural heritage and to build in a manner that compliments the urban fabric of the city. This has been a priority in our construction of the Fish Market: respecting the scale and integrity of the traditional city whilst adding a new and dynamic element to the corniche and harbour front.

You talk a lot about linking the past and the future of Oman in the design of this marketplace. What do you foresee for the architectural future of the country?
We hope that projects in Oman will continue to respect the local scale and context. A form of contextual regionalism, which allows architects to explore the possibilities inherent to the country in order to create genuinely unique solutions as opposed to simple copies and imitations.

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