Posted by: Sutton Vane Associates
The National Museum of Oman is a flagship cultural project for the Sultanate of Oman. So the lighting had to reflect and celebrate the importance of this project. The new museum has been built in Old Muscat, opposite the Sultan’s Al Alam Palace. The wonderful artefacts in the museum and the architecture had to be shown off to celebrate the remarkable history and importance of Oman. London based lighting designers Sutton Vane Associates were commissioned to design all the lighting of the museum: All galleries, temporary exhibition spaces, lecture theatres, offices, the shop and supporting areas like cloakrooms and circulation areas and even the outside of the building and the surrounding landscape.
One of Sutton Vane Associate’s first tasks was to carry out studies to assess how much of the bright Omani sunlight could be allowed into the galleries. Many visitors arrive at the main car park in sunlight. Working with the architects, the lighting challenge was to design a route into the museum which gently lowers the light levels for the visitors to allow their eyes to get gradually adapted to the low light levels that have to be used inside the museum to prevent the valuable exhibits from fading. So the visitors pass through a series of spaces, first an arcade, then a glazed entrance area, then the reception hall each of which has gradually less sunlight and daylight. The visitors do not notice that they are getting gently accustomed to decreasing light levels, so when they reach the first gallery they are happy with the lower light levels.
Huge lanterns in the reception hall glow and give gentle, hidden, lighting downwards which is part of the light level reduction from the bright outside. The brightness of the sky has been reduced by special glazing.
The design of the museum mixes traditional Arabic decorative themes with a modern architectural design language. In the circulation spaces there are specially designed decorative lanterns which create hidden functional lighting as well as glowing and showing off their decorations. Some of the lanterns are enormous – the four lanterns in the reception hall are 3 metres high.
In the first main gallery are the tallest show cases in the world. Adjusting and setting the lighting in these dramatic cases needed a very tall ladder, not something that is normally needed in museum showcases.
A display of swords is high-lighted in the reconstruction of the decorated interior of a round historic fort.
The museum has seventeen galleries and many have deliberately different styles and atmospheres. One of the galleries is a full size reconstruction of a decorated round historic fort interior. The lighting is designed to be as hidden as possible so that the visitors feel they are in the original fort. The lighting deliberately emphasises the relief of the decorations around the central drum. As with all galleries, the lighting sets up a hierarchy of importance. The artefacts are the most important objects so they have the best lighting. The fort surfaces are the next most important story to be told, so they are lit to a lower level. The floor is stone, like the original, and helps create the historic atmosphere, so it is lit more than the floors in other galleries.
A huge highly decorated architectural panel is supported on a huge sheet of glowing alabaster.
In another gallery a large highly decorated panel is mounted on a back-lit alabaster panel. During the day the alabaster is lit by daylight. This is ecological and provides a visual, changing connection with the outside world. At night, artificial lighting fades up to keep the alabaster glowing.
The main front of the museum faces the Sultan’s Royal Al Alam Palace. As it is in view of the Palace, the lighting would only receive permission from the Royal Court if it was suitably dignified. So a lighting scheme was designed that celebrates the restrained themes of the architecture of this facade. There are lanterns in the arcades around the museum and they have decorative grilles to create Omani themed shadows on the ground.
At the rear of the building, high on a rocky mountain, is a historic fort. Both the fort and parts of the mountain are gently lit to link this part of the nation’s history visually down to the museum.
Sutton Vane Associates have designed the lighting of many museums, galleries, leisure attractions and educational facilities all over the world. They work with both modern and historic buildings. They designed the lighting for the London 2012 Olympic Park.
The National Museum of Oman by Sutton Vane Associates was the winner of the Light Middle East Awards.