HER STORY

Aida Al Khaled Al Rowas (3 November 1949 – 12 May 2020)

Her story began in a historic Arab house in old Damascus, a city renowned for its attractive buildings and exquisite examples of Islamic architecture and rich in Islamic artistic expression. Raised in this house as the only child of Nahida (1905 - 1998), the daughter of an established Damascene merchant, Talaat Jabri, she subsequently moved to Beirut, Lebanon, where she completed her university and graduate studies in sociology and anthropology, with a view to pursuing her post-graduate studies and beginning a full-time career in academia.

As she was the sole-provider for her family at the time, she also pursued a career in journalism, which brought her to Oman in November 1977, when the country was celebrating its seventh national day commemorating the ascension of the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said to the throne (18 November 1940 – 10 January 2020), and the founding of the modern Omani state.

To paraphrase her words from the preface of her first book Oman: Faces and Places 1977, first published in February 2014, 36 years after her first visit to Oman, from the moment of her arrival, she was mesmerized by the beauty of the natural environment and its relationship with the people who welcomed her with graciousness into their daily lives.

Her travels took her across the country, where she documented her journey and impressions of a place that was little known to most Arabs at the time, with her X{Nikon} camera. Although the aim of her visit was the publication of a book that would connect Oman and its people to the broader region, life’s journey saw her settled in the country after she married Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Mohamed Al Rowas, a prominent Dhofari tribal leader and figurehead in his own right, who subsequently became Minister of Information in 19XX.

The decision in 1987 to build what became Dar Abdul Aziz bin Mohamed Al Rowas was a multi-faceted one. As a prominent member of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s government (September 1970 - January 2020), and in conjunction with his tribal role and responsibilities in Dhofar, there was consensus around the need for a private landmark residence in Salalah, Dhofar’s provincial capital. The requirement was to create a space capable of serving as a tribal gathering point for very large groups of people, host multiple varied smaller gatherings simultaneously, whilst functioning as a home for the nuclear and the extended family, namely Sheikh Abdul Aziz’s mother, Khair ‘bint Al Marath’. Underlying these functional requirements, was the need to also ensure that the space successfully connects the land, its people, and their nascent government, in a manner that is harmonious with the inclusive and unifying identity being established alongside the development of the modern Omani state.

Solving the difficult equation between form and function was one of the main and most challenging considerations around this project. These multi-faceted requirements shaped the design concept and grounded it in the desire to revive local Dhofari architecture, honor the shared identities and values of the owners of Dar Abdul Aziz bin Mohamed Al Rowas, and harmonize with their broader social setting; the result, a design concept underpinned by a local Omani heritage, and that sets it within a broader Arab historical context.

Significant budgetary constraints relative to the ambitions of the project, and the desire to achieve a tight ‘functional-aesthetic’ balance in the final product, meant that by 1988, Aida Al Rowas was tasked with directly managing every aspect of designing, planning, construction, and implementation of the project, including travel to Jordan, Egypt, India, and other places, to procure construction materials and recruit skilled labor. A specialist company XXX was set-up to undertake the civil construction of the building and establish a purpose-built carpentry workshop in Muscat to complete it, including all the interior design, ornamentation and furnishing of the residence. The project was completed in 1993, including all the built-in wooden components. The complete furnishing of the house, lighting and final decorative touches were finished incrementally, in the many years that followed.

Despite the intensity of the final architectural work, unprecedented attention to detail and level of harmony achieved linking all aspects of the design, the very function that drove the conceptualization and realization of the project meant that it had to serve its purpose, rather than become a focal point for broader artistic appreciation and discourse.

It was only in 2012, 12 years after her spouse had left his post as Minister of Information upon his request due to health considerations and moved into a new role as Advisor to the Sultan for Cultural Affairs, that Dar Al Sorat publishing house was even established, and the process of publishing the book documenting this project, Silent Journey (2016), began in earnest.

In the first and only event celebrating her works that she allowed during her lifetime out of respect and commitment to the values that shaped her life and immortalized through the body of work that she left behind, Aida Al Rowas launched her books at a bespoke local exhibit by Dar Al Sorat at the Muscat Book Fair on XX DATE.

She was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer in June 2019 and passed away peacefully with her loved ones in Muscat, Oman on 12 May 2020.

HIS STORY

Abdul Aziz bin Mohamed Al Rowas (3 November 1949)

His late majesty Sultan Qaboos bestowed the highest honour on Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Rowas, who was the advisor to His Majesty in Cultural Affairs, “Wissam Al Rusookh”, in commemoration of his lifetime of service on 23/11/2010. He continued to serve in this role until after the late Sultan’s passing and he retired in March of 2020.