When you drive towards the Royal Opera House Muscat, you simply cannot miss the fresh salutation offered to motorists by a 12m high water fountain that spews forth in many creative formations from a towering ogival arch with an aesthetic twist. The pleasing structure was installed during Ramadan five years ago.
The landmark – known as ‘Arches of Oman’ – has become the hallmark of Qurm district and presents the most refreshing sight in Muscat during the harsh summer. It has been installed in the midst of a beautiful garden created in a space adjacent to the traffic intersection which was once a favourite ground for youth to play football.
The imposing steel and water fountain stands testimony to intricate and extraordinary engineering and is one of the most unique installations in Oman in recent years.
Giles Rayner, the renowned sculptor behind Arches of Oman disclosed that he had thought of the concept as early as 2012. “The inspiration had to be, and was, Muscat – the space and open air, the culture. But, in particular, it had to complement the stunning architecture of the Royal Opera House, the presence of which is now powerfully felt in and around the gardens of the sculpture.” He felt that the sculpture had to forge both, an architectural and artistic, connection with the ROHM.
The abstract sculpture was influenced by the Islamic arch shape and by The Royal Opera House itself. Movement is provided by the variable water jets and also by its sinuous curves which cause it to appear to rotate as you pass around it. And it is the focal point of the beautifully landscaped gardens in which it sits.
The spiralled form of the sculpture is based around the ogival arch, originally developed in sixth century Iraq and Syria, and used so effectively in both, the Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House. “This mathematical elegant simplicity was what I wished to capture, albeit in a three-dimensional way which allowed this ogival arch shape to be viewed within the sculpture from all around,” Giles had disclosed.
Demonstrating the operation of the fountain in an underground control chamber created at the site, Julian Glyn-Owen – the commission director – said he sourced the best design engineering firm, the right fabrication company, and managed all of these teams together to create the final installation.
The three main parts of Arches of Oman – two ‘tusks’ and an ‘apex’ – were fabricated in Darwen and Rotherham in the UK. The final assembly process was carried out in Muscat over 22 days during Ramadan in 2017.
The sculpture has a fully automated water display system that runs on a 24-hour cycle. This system includes the lighting and four different water cycle effects – rain, leaf, lattice and centre jet display. The cycle also changes according to sunset and sunrise. The system is robust and takes into consideration the strength of the wind blowing across from the sea which might impact the fountain.
The water display system was designed, to full scale, on a 12m high scaffolding rig in England. It was there that the functionality of 68 nozzles and three water pumps in a real 3D environment was tested. A very high grade of stainless steel, that has been tried and tested within the oil and gas industry, was used to form the body of the arches.
These large components were then shipped to Oman. In all, 12 companies in the UK and four in Muscat were involved in creating and installing this unique piece of art.
Best viewed from a distance, the two entwined, stainless steel tusks that connect seamlessly offer unique views from all surrounding approaches. It is the first installation of its kind in the capital.
With a height of 12m and a width of around 7m, it sits snugly in the midst of the 25m wide oval pool. The patterns created by jets of fresh water, emerging in sequence, remind one of the veins of a giant leaf, the bunch of strings on a medieval lute or the wide array of strings on an imperial harp – a pleasing sight to behold. And, after dusk, colourful lighting adds a mystical element to its beauty.