Saudi Arabia: a futuristic paradise for architecture enthusiasts
Saudi Arabia is a country usually associated on one hand as the birthplace of Islam and on the other hand, with its boundless deserts and large oil reserves. In fact, the kingdom can offer much more to its visitors than just these popular stereotypes known from the media. Once you get there as a tourist, you will be surprised in many ways, especially by the local architecture.
On the territory of the Gulf monarchy you can find historical sites which are thousands of years old and remain untouched by the mass tourist, like for example the city of Al-Ula, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Mada’in Saleh or the Najd region. At the same time, you can discover some of the most modern-looking cities in the world. They emphasize not only the wealth of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) but also the change from a very conservative to a modern, forward-looking society that has been ongoing there for some time now. The coexistence of strong traditions and an inspiring modernity in the Saudi architecture is one of the things that makes the country so unique and exciting, especially for travelers who are sick of those Instagram-ish destinations we all know very well.
Giving a stage to local and world-renowned out-of-the box thinking artists can be seen as an explicit statement that the country is willing to embrace and implement new ideas. That’s why Saudi Arabia is home to some of the most breathtaking examples of integration between Islamic tradition and technological development, with even more futuristic projects expected to be completed in the near future. With the help of names like Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster and Frei Otto – pillars of the modernist architecture, some of the most groundbreaking contemporary buildings have found their place in the life and culture of Saudi Arabia of today and tomorrow.
The King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) Grand Mosque, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is part of a colossal project for a modern metropolis in the north of the capital that is still under construction. The building itself was designed by the Saudi architecture firm Omrania. It combines modern elements with the traditional interpretation of mosques with its geometry inspired by crystalline intersecting plates of a desert rose.
The Tuwaiq Palace is the central cultural facility for the prestigious Diplomatic Quarter (DQ) in Riyadh, completed in 1985. The design of this awarded masterpiece has resulted from a successful collaboration between Omrania & Associates, German Pritzker-winner Frei Otto, and Bureau Happold (UK). Its unique design touches on two local archetypes, the fortress and the tent, and incorporates the natural phenomenon of the oasis.
King Fahad National Library
The King Fahad National Library, one of the most important cultural buildings in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was opened in November 2013. The design involves the refurbishment and extension of an existing building. The square new building is covered by a filigree textile facade following traditional Middle Eastern architectural patterns.
KAUST Breakwater Beacon
The 60m high “Breakwater Beacon” is the centre piece of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), an enormous research institution complex located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and inaugurated in 2009. Led by Daniel Tobin, Principal of Australian-based Urban Art Projects studio, the design draws inspiration from ancient Arabic maritime traditions, in-region artwork and architectural detailing, linking to the marine ecology of the Red Sea.
The 70,000m² King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre campus on the northern edge of Ridyah incorporates five buildings and was designed by another Pritzker-winner, Zaha Hadid. It opened in October 2017 and was the first project of Zaha Hadid Architects to be awarded LEED Platinum certification by the US Green Building Council. The modular structure grows and multiplies like a living, organic cell, resulting in a series of seemingly crystalline-like structures that emerge from the desert landscape.
In few words, the visual transformation is not only a proof of the “Wind of Change” in the Arabian Peninsula country’s politics and economy as aimed in Vision 2030 but it is also a projection of the transformation going on in the nation’s mentality. A new future-oriented generation is taking over and this can be noticed very clearly through the modern architecture reshaping the landscapes of KSA’s largest cities.