Bjorn Watson, ex-Chief Engineer for Cementation International, the UK based engineering firm which carried out the construction of SQU as a turnkey project, visited the most important project of his career after 32 years. Bjorn, who visited SQU on 11 March 2019, was greeted and received by Prof. Hadj Bourdoucen, the Dean of the College of Engineering with other members of the faculty and final year students. At SQU, he was introduced to the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof Amer Ali Al-Rawas. “We were privileged to meet H.E. Dr. Ali bin Saud Al Bimani, the Vice Chancellor of the University who presented me with a magnificent gilded plate to mark my visit and which will be one of my treasured possessions”, he said.
Watson, now a retired chartered civil engineer, worked in Oman from 1982 to 1986 on the construction of the Sultan Qaboos University. “It has always been my ambition to return to the most important project of my career and on 11th March 2019 we were able to realise that ambition”, he said.
Watson was appointed as head of the engineering design team in 1981 and worked with the architects YRM International on the design of the civil and structural design of the infrastructure and buildings of the university. In 1983, he was asked to take up the post of Chief Engineer on the construction in Oman. Watson left the project in 1986 when the infrastructure and the buildings of the university were largely complete.
Reminiscing about his experience in Oman, Watson said: “The construction of the university project was let as a turnkey contract to Cementation International. At the time it was the largest overseas contract given to a single UK contractor. When I arrived, the site was a barren desert and the axis of the academic centre had been chosen to align along a shallow valley in the east-west direction. The contractor had agreed a very tight construction programme in order to open the university by 1986. We first had to create the accommodation and offices for the engineering staff and workers on the project – next came the roads, drainage and related infrastructure. The first buildings to be constructed were the staff houses and the staff club. The central academic area was designed in a modern Islamic style. The buildings were constructed in reinforced concrete with colonnaded walkways to provide shading. The design incorporated a strict discipline to facilitate modular construction which enabled the contractor to construct with maximum speed and efficiency.
Watson added: “When I presented the infrastructure package to the first Vice Chancellor, H.E. Sheikh Amor bin Ali Al Marhuby, he had vision of what he wanted his university to be like. He quoted a poem by the English 19th Century poet, Rudyard Kipling, called The Glory of the Garden.
“OUR England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye”.
“That is what I want my university to be like”, he said! When I returned after more than 32 years I am pleased to say that the Sheikh’s vision has been truly realised and that my project has grown by more than six times its original size to become one of the most prestigious centres of learning in the Middle East”. Watson thanked the University officials and for the warm reception accorded to him during his visit. He said “I hope to return!”