Success stories from GUtech’s Department of Urban Planning and Architecture

HALBAN To highlight the successful development of the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) over the past decade, Prof. Nikolaus Knebel, one of the founding staff of the Department of Urban Planning and Architectural Design (UPAD), published a book to summarize his approach to educating architects and urban planners in Oman. “While the professional realm of architects and urban planners is still emerging in Oman my teaching emphasizes what is usually rather at opposite ends of academic education, namely the real and the theoretical.”, said Prof. Nikolaus Knebel.

Prof. Knebel’s book on “Ten Projects on Educating Architects in Oman” is currently presented at the Muscat International Book Fair, Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre. The book discusses ten study projects, each characterized by a verb that stands for the main activity: find, plan, try, make, engage, build, explore, sense, reflect, envision. One set of projects aims to expose students to primary experiences that are relevant for architects and urban planners, such as working with real materials and real sites, e.g. when students learn how to mix mortar, lay mud-bricks in a bond, ram earth, use natural stones, cut and join timber, and test palm leaves as a roof cover. “With that hands-on experience of using different tools, handling materials and understanding processes on site, students then set out to design a new prayer room for GUtech’s sports facilities,” said Prof. Nikolaus Knebel. Students also meet with professionals from the consulting and construction industry to get to know the everyday problems that architects and urban planners face while doing their everyday work. Projects such as the award-winning EcoHaus, the research into the Social Housing Project, the setting up of a building yard on campus are preparing students for their future jobs.

In another set of projects Prof. Nikolaus Knebel focuses on continuously building up the students’ theoretical knowledge. “Our projects like the experimental design workshops with the Architectural Association in London and my emphasis on reading and discussion key theoretical texts during our excursions to the UAE and Qatar in recent years or in seminars on Design Thinking aim at nurturing a fundamental knowledge that underlies architectural practice regardless of the fashion of the season,” he said. “Throughout the past years we visited different projects in Qatar, UAE, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands to understand the practical and theoretical challenges of current topics such as identity, community, mobility, energy and digitalization. Students saw gigantic new airports and miniature prayer rooms, solar cars and passive energy saving houses, student companies and multinational architecture firms, but they also read the key texts.” Finally through reflection about their own work and skills, awareness is created about the entire design process. “Students become more confident, and thus more agile designers, individually and collectively” highlighted Prof. Knebel.

Successful GUtech graduates from the Department of Urban Planning and Architectural Design (UPAD) have moved on in their educational path and completed their Master’s degree abroad, for example in Germany, France, Italy, UK, US, South Korea. Some already embarked on PhD programmes. Many graduates now work as architects in Oman and the region, independently or in the government sector, such as the planning departments of different ministries in Oman, the Supreme Council for Planning in Muscat or with prestigious local consultants such as Khatib & Alami, Atkins, 23 degrees or Hoehler & Salmi Architects. Soon, fresh graduates and professionals can earn a Master’s degree in architecture and urban planning, at GUtech in Oman. Admission into the programme is open and scholarships are available.

(c) GUtech, Text & Photo: Prof. Nikolaus Knebel and Dr. Manuela Gutberlet

 

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