Top Gun

The roof structure of the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman shows the power of innovative design.

The roof structure at Queen Alia’s airport in Amman proves that design and talent are alive and well in the Middle East

By MAYSA ZUREIKAT

When Zaha Hadid died, the world bemoaned a visionary talent. Who was there to replace her? Architecture is a notoriously difficult space in which to make a mark; it took many years before one of her designs was realized. And an architect that can marry the designs of the east and the west—yet still find acclaim in their own nation—is even rarer.

But new emerging architectural leaders are offering the region hope. Despite his young age, British-Jordanian Omar Al Omari is one such architect, with an impressive number of feats under his belt.

In 1999, he moved to London to pursue his university education at the renowned Architectural Association (AA) in London—Zaha Hadid’s alma mater—and has been living and working there ever since. Upon graduating, he joined Foster + Partners as a geometry specialist and despite his young age, quickly ascended the ranks to become an associate partner.

At the age of 26, he had landed on his feet as an architect responsible for numerous large-scale projects in Jordan including the award-winning 150,000sqm Amman Living Wall mixed-use development as well as the Queen Alia International Airport’s (QAIA) complex roof superstructure. The latter is something of a coup; a remarkable structure by any standards, it dwarfs Gulf airports as an imposing, avant-garde statement.

The opportunity arose for Al Omari to join the team that led the iconic airport in 2013. “I was 26, and only two years into my professional career. It was an incredible opportunity.

As with any substantial project, I was part of a wider, highly capable team at Foster + Partners, and it took us three years to complete the design. My role was the associate in charge of the roof superstructure” which, he says, is “geometrically complex and innovative in its modular construction techniques.”

During his time there, and alongside his work on the QAIA, Al Omari was also responsible for numerous large-scale projects including three iconic 65-storey towers within the 165,000sqm Platinum Park mixed-use development in Kuala Lumpur, and three 50-storey towers in central Shanghai.

But it is Amman’s airport that is a stunning achievement. The QAIA will allow for Amman to become an air hub for the Levant, with the goal of increasing its annual capacity from 3 to 12 million passengers by 2030. The roof canopy unifies the 116,000sqm airport, with a series of shallow concrete domes reminiscent of traditional Islamic architecture, which extend and cantilever to shade the facades. The airport is symbolic of so much more for Al Omari. “As a Jordanian, I am immensely grateful and proud to be given the opportunity to contribute and give back to my country.” he says. “An airport is the gateway to a nation. It is of utmost importance to have a functional yet aesthetically beautiful airport as it is the first impression and last experience a traveler has of the country.”

In 2013, he co-founded OAOA Architecture Associates in London with his partner Deena Fakhro, a Bahraini architect.  Now 34, Al Omari resides and works from their London studio. Tucked in an industrial pocket in west London, an area undergoing fast regeneration, is a multi-storey converted warehouse built out of red London brick and a pronounced concrete structure with graceful proportions. The building houses creative studios. An open-plan architecture office with predominantly white interiors, a seamless grey resin floor and large windows flooding the tall, column-free space with natural light, the building is raw and there is a charm and creative energy to the place.

His father’s legacy inspired him to become an architect. “I have a vivid childhood memory of riding an excavator with my architect father whilst he was on a site visit for the construction of a mosque he designed in Amman. I was around five years old. Architecture as a career wasn’t a decision, it was intuitive as I always wanted to create tangible things.”

The firm’s largest and most prominent projects include 77 seafront Peninsula Island villas and 50 residential buildings overlooking a golf course in Aqaba. A new 40-storey mixed-use tower in a very prominent location in Manama is next on the horizon.  Public-use buildings are a priority for the young architect as “they have immense benefit” for the lives of many people.  “Architecture has the capacity to inspire generations,” Al Omari says. And his aim, he says is to “question the status-quo, and continually improve our surroundings and the environment we live in.”

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