RIBA International Week: Can we find a model for the new urban agenda?

This week marks RIBA International Week, an exploration of global architecture. Our work on the Madinat al Irfan masterplan, an urban extension for the Omani capital Muscat, will be featured in an exhibition entitled ‘Delivering the New Urban Agenda through Competitions’ held at the RIBA over the course of the week. The display shares winning entries from international design contests which have been organised by RIBA Competitions.

The New Urban Agenda adopted by the United Nations at UN-Habitat III in Quito is the focus of RIBA International Week. The Irfan project exemplifies many of the ambitions set out in the UN’s strategic blueprint, which outlines a more sustainable urban future by addressing the challenges of housing, infrastructure, basic services, food security, health, education, employment, safety and energy use – issues faced by cities around the world.

First awarded through an RIBA competition and commissioned by Omran, the Sultanate of Oman’s national master developer of major tourism, heritage and urban assets, our masterplan uses Oman’s culturally-grounded approach to growth as a starting point for an entirely new urban district. New development will be compact and walkable, place-specific and climate appropriate, taking inspiration from historic Omani settlements, built at a human scale. Landscape and productive agriculture are important components. The masterplan cuts carbon emissions, car reliance and water use by half against business as usual. Our work has also included producing a comprehensive set of design codes and recommendations for a new planning system for the country to ensure these sustainable aspirations are codified into urban policy.

We have approached the project as a chance to create a catalyst for progressive change, which will go on to influence the future urban development of Oman and beyond. Given the scale of new building – with a living, working and visiting population of 280,000 in a country of 3.5 million – its sheer size will enable such a paradigm shift. In these ways, we hope this work offers a model for a new urban agenda and a blueprint for resilient new cities, towns and settlements.

Delivering the New Urban Agenda through Competitions is on view at the Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London W1B 1AD, from 3-7 July.