Dar Abdul Aziz Al Rowas

The term “Dar” in the Arabic language is used to describe residential buildings. Although many of the terms referring to residences are used interchangeably, “Dar” is a term specifically used to describe both the main building and its associated surroundings.

Dar Abdul Aziz bin Mohamed Al Rowas is the private residence of Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Mohamed Al Rowas in Salalah, the provincial capital of Dhofar, the southernmost region in the Sultanate of Oman. The unifying vision and driving force were provided by Sheikh Abdul Aziz’s late wife, Aida Al Rowas.

From the conception stages, Aida Al Rowas outlined the design concept for the building’s architecture and interior design. She was able to achieve this by directly managing the purpose-built woodworking workshop herself, and the construction site, through a specialized private company setup specifically for this task. She also relied on the support of a civil engineering consultant to ensure that all the technical calculations were correct and adjusted the designs to accommodate these requirements as the work progressed. As a result, she ensured that a single unifying vision permeated every aspect of the final structure, fully realized her design concept, and achieved unprecedented harmony and balance in the final interior and exterior design of the building.

The design concept, presented in her book Silent Journey, was underpinned by key components that guided its application to every aspect of the final residence, namely

1.Preserving the elevation and style of traditional Dhofari architecture and reliance on the use of natural materials in the finish of the building.

This included exclusive use of natural stone and Omani marble to clad the interior and exterior elevations, floors and ceilings. The use of natural materials together with the layout and strategic use of space and apertures played a major role in temperature regulation in traditional Dhofari residences. This regulating effect can also be observed in the ‘Dar’ (Al Dar) today.

2. Showcasing the traditional wooden ornamental Dhofari window.

3. Selecting verses from the Qur’an as the central focal point of the hand-crafted wooden ornamentation, featured throughout the building. 4. Relying on geometric patterns to showcase the Qur’anic verses inscribed on the ornamental timberwork. Previously, intricate geometric patterns in Islamic art were more commonly found etched on metal, drawn on illustrated manuscripts or molded in plaster. Woodcarving was more usually associated with decorative botanical motifs; decorative geometric motifs when etched on wood in Islamic art, were typically substantially larger in scale and comparatively simpler in design than those developed and hand-crafted exclusively for Dar Abdul Aziz bin Mohamed Al Rowas.

The decision to draw on and preserve key elements of Dhofari heritage was made all the more urgent at the time since the traditional architecture of Dhofar was under serious threat, with historic Dhofari houses disappearing and giving way to modern structures instead. Many buildings featured in the photographs taken by Aida Al Rowas during her trip to Oman in 1977 and published in her books Silent Journey and Oman: Faces and Places 1977, are long gone. She was also greatly inspired by the distinctive Dhofari window, which relied on several simple geometric forms, capable of combining to produce a variety of patterns, and sometimes surrounded by a simple ornamental frame.

Going beyond preserving traditional Dhofari architecture, was the goal of setting the building within a modern Omani identity grounded in its heritage and interconnected with its broader Arab context. Here, choosing specific styles of decorative arches found in the traditional Dhofari window and also more broadly in traditional Omani architecture, together with the tradition of verses from the Quran being displayed above entranceways, were the primary points of connection between the traditional Dhofari elevation of the building and a broader Omani architectural heritage.

The windows designed by Aida Al Rowas to exacting proportions and in different varieties and sizes, which were wholly inspired by the Dhofari windows that she had photographed, are elegantly framed and complemented by stone-clad arches. The incorporation of additional challenging architectural features throughout the structure create additional albeit subtle points of connection to Arab and Islamic architecture more broadly. These range from stone-clad four-arched groined vaults, which form the arcades framing the main reception hall, to the use of decorative stone-clad arches and recessions, built to exacting proportions, to create varying points of emphasis and atmospheres in each space, together with the very common tradition of prominently displaying select Quranic verses embellished with artistic ornamentation to decorate interior spaces. The harmonious blending of these features and

exacting proportions of both the architecture and the ornamentation of all the woodwork, highlight a deep and nuanced understanding of and engagement with aesthetics and proportions in Islamic art.

Aida Al Rowas’ upbringing and subsequent intellectual pursuits were particularly significant in expanding her engagement with the artistic aspects of Arab and Islamic architecture. Immersion in the historic Arab house in old Damascus that she grew up in, charged her foremost memories with a rich store of aesthetic images, and keenly developed her awareness of spatial relationships and how they influence and respond to the ever-evolving movement of people through them. These historic Damascene influences can be noted in subtle aspects of the design, from the central courtyard separating the public and private spaces, the use of Brocart de Damas (Damascene brocade) to upholster select hand-crafted chairs in specific spaces, to the inclusion of large main reception halls with the typical distinctive features associated with a standard Arab ‘Qa’ah’, meaning reception hall in Arabic.

Aida Al Rowas always insisted that the beauty and simplicity of the Dhofari window was her primary source of inspiration for many of the motifs and patterns that she herself had evolved, to showcase the inscriptions found on the doors, friezes, cupboards, hand-carved wall hangings and furniture. She worked very closely with her draughtsmen, carpenters, and wood carvers to produce custom tools and steps to carve the intricate geometric patterns on timbre, that she had designed. Here, she successfully standardized the techniques and process of production for the geometric ornamentations and the inscriptions for the selected Qur’anic verses for the entire project. This ensured that many carvers and carpenters over the years were trained to replicate the required patterns every time, down to the millimeter scale, and allowed a more efficient division of labor. All the beams, windows, doors, cupboards, friezes and the main ornamental wall-hangings inscribed with Qur’anic verses were completed in record time, with a relatively small close-knit team. Notably, Aida Al Rowas took direct charge of the project in 1988, and delivered the finished ready-to-furnish building, together with its landscaping, in 1993.

Given, the harmony, beauty, and simplicity of the final result, t became apparent that the furniture of the house had to also adhere to the exact standards applied to the architecture of the building and its main aesthetic features. In the years that followed, Aida Al Rowas, in the same carpentry workshop, designed and manufactured all the furniture and interior features of the house, with each piece being made specifically for the place it currently resides in.