The French nation has been represented in Muscat, Oman since the late 17th century, the time of King Louis XIV. As the original embassy building is of historical and architectural significance to the city, it was decided to relocate the embassy complex in the newly designated diplomatic quarter which is situated 30 km to the west of Muscat. This new quarter regroups foreign embassies in one area, and all nations represented have been alloted identical plots measuring 180 x 80 m, despite disparate requirements for their respective embassy complexes. The proposition of Architecture Studio for the French Embassy was selected from entries for the design competition organised in 1987 by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Almost the entire site has been covered by a giant pergola of two-way concrete beams, supported by columns on a 4.5 x 4.5 m grid which, the architects believe, performs a role analagous to that of the traditional mashrabiyya. The land slopes 1% toward the sea, while the mashrabiyya slopes by over 3% therefore, the structure is 6.5 m above ground level at the entrance to the complex, while on the beach side it is only 3.5 m above ground level. In plan, the central circulation axis is inclined at 2% to give an overall effect of false perspective. The effect is accentuated by the 200 support columns, each of which is positioned at 90° to the mashrabiyya and, consequently, at various eccentric angles with the ground.
The three main components of the programme - staff apartments, the embassy building, and the ambassador's residence, - are visually and physically linked by the structure and this changes the scale of the complex by presenting a single, unified volume rather than a composition of smaller buildings. The mashrabiyya is covered, in part, by a series of small domes with circular perforations which create interesting shadow patterns and allow sunlight to infiltrate, while the large dome structure is intended to signal the importance of the embassy building. Fountains placed along the circulation axis offer cool respite from the harsh climate. Externally, the grid of the mashrabiyya is continued on the façade to reinforce the unity of the complex.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture