Sustainable Patterns of Urbanization in Oman

Since 2011 Aurel von Richthofen is Co-Investigator on the research project entitled "Towards Sustainable Patterns of Urbanization in Oman" funded by The Research Council Oman (TRC). He is a main contributor responsible for writing the report, editing the material, leading research assistants, coordinating symposia, conferences and exhibitions.

Urbanization patterns in Oman are characterized by dispersed settlement structures both in the urban expansion areas of the Capital Area of Muscat as well in the areas of rural to urban transition. The predominant separation of functions further augments the needs for car based mobility. The single villa on a walled plot is the favored residential building type. These urbanization trends meet limited land resources. Due to the geophysical and climatic setting of the country 75 % of the countries total surface is covered by desert and not fit for permanent settlement. Another large part is mountainous and hard to access. Thus the remaining land has to be shared for different purposes of the Omani society. While land consumption by residential use, services and transport infrastructure is increasing steadily, suitable land for agriculture is decreasing. The current development has a lasting effect on the rural-to urban transition creating an irreversible facts in Oman.

The research projects aims at detecting driving forces of the ongoing urbanization trends in Oman and at developing strategies and programs to control and guide the resulting urbanization patterns towards a resource saving, climatically adapted, socially, culturally and economically balanced urban development. The management of land as a limited resources is at the center of attention. Thus the research program focusses on land use, land use change, land use planning, land registration systems, land ownership, allocation and purchase, land value and land markets.

The research objectives are threefold: 

A) Providing empirical data and information on crucial issues of urbanization in Oman; describing and analyzing land use and urbanization patterns in selected case study areas of urban expansion and rural transition. Literature on the proposed topic related to Oman is very limited and few statistics are available. Relevant data collection on an empirical base plays a crucial role for the project. Therefore two complementary case studies are carried out to reveal specific characteristics of the parallel processes of urban expansion and rural-urban transition. The case studies provide a comprehensive and detailed survey on social, economic, and environmental implications of land use and settlement patterns. 

B) Contributing to the current scientific national and international discourse on urbanization; understanding processes and mechanisms of urbanization in Oman. The specific development in Oman asks for a comprehensive view on urbanization trends that occur at the same time in more urbanized and in currently urbanizing areas. The interface between rural transition process and urban expansion process is examined by two case studies. This dual approach and focus one on the urban expansion and one on the rural transition component of the overall process. These mechanisms are interactive factors deriving from social and cultural contexts, from economic conditions and from environmental settings. They are influenced by overall national development policies, by rural-urban inter-relations and by local conditions. These mechanisms include different actors such as the state, civil society and private sector, wherein the focus is laid on land-related issues regarded as crucial to future development of the country.

C) Developing application-oriented instruments to guide and control sustainable development in Oman; including locally adapted strategies, programs, and implementation frameworks to manage future balanced development in the country. Outcomes include scenarios of sustainable development, indicators for sustainable land use and settlement patterns, strategies and action plans for selected areas, recommendations for the reform of physical planning standards with the help of parametric modeling, concepts for sustainable land management and action Plans for further interventions including the design of a compact city for Oman. 

Two complementary case studies are carried out that allow detailed insights in and reveal specific characteristics of parallel processes of urban expansion and transition on the local level. Systematic mapping of land use and settlement patterns in selected areas together with interviews conducted with key informants and representatives from governmental institutions accumulate up-to date data to be correlated with urban development policies, physical planning standards, and residential building types. Findings of the to case studies contribute to the comparative evaluation of urbanization and the development of a sustainability profile. 

The project website can be found here:


Institution: German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) and Sultan Qabous University (SQU) 

Sponsored by The Research Council Oman (TRC)


Contributors: Principle Investigator Dr. Sonja Nebel (GUtech), 

Co-Investigators Dr. Awni Shabaan (SQU), Dr. Alaa Mandour (SQU), Aurel von Richthofen (GUtech) 

Year: 2011–2014

Areas prone to Urban Development in Muscat Capital Area 1990
Settlement Areas in Muscat Capital Area 2013
Urbanization in Oman 2013
Agricultural land-use and natural features endangered by rapid urbanization
Agricultural land-use and natural features in Oman

Compact City Oman

Compact city is a design for a sustainable neighborhood in Al Khoudh within the larger Muscat Capital Area based on cultural, climatic and economic criteria of sustainability. This model – both a research method to evaluate, interpret and integrate specific criteria of sustainability as well as a design proposal for a sustainable neighborhood - exemplifies an integrated approach to urbanism adapted to the local Omani conditions.

Urban Oman Research

The research project “Towards Sustainable Patterns of Urbanization” founded by The Research Council Oman (TRC) has lead to various collaborations with other international academic institutions. As co-investigator on the project in Oman, I have been coordinating these exchanges and channeling them into significant contributions to the larger research project while providing the students with academic frame-work, access and exposure.

Focal point ETH Studio Basel

Aurel von Richthofen acts as focal point for ETH Studio Basel research on urbanization in Oman in March 2013. He coordinates the visit of 10 students, 4 assistants and 2 professors to Muscat, organizes a symposium and workshops with GUtech students.

ISU, Braunschweig

Aurel von Richthofen speaks on the topic of Urbanisation Patterns at the Gulf of Arabia. Guest lecture at the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism [ISU] in Braunschweig, Dec. 2012, lecture in German.

Parametric Urban Design Model / Qurm

Within the research project, we developed tools and methods to map these environmental, cultural and programmatic parameters into a cohesive urban design mechanism. This mechanism can be adapted and applied to any site in Oman or the Gulf region from the scale of a few houses to larger mixed use developments.

Scitech TV - Houses

Scitech TV documents the research project sponsored by the Research Council Oman "Towards Sustainable Patterns of Urbanisation in Oman" conducted by GUtech and SQU, featuring Aurel von Richthofen and Haitham Al Busafi as well as GUtech students.