The King Abdulaziz Center is located in Dharan, Saudi Arabia. This complex is due to be completed in the end of this year. It will be composed of a 6000-square-meter plaza — designed as an urban space — which will serve as the entrance space for all the cultural components.
|The King Abdulaziz Center For WOrld Culture — Plan, Dharan, Saudi Arabia, © Snoehetta|
Natural elements — here desert — play an important role in the design of the complex shape. The elliptical monoscape which is surrounding the complex is based on the desert.
The design process is inspired by the desert as many projects currently under constructions in these Region.
The King Abdulaziz Center is an articulation of pebble-like shapes, with smooth rounded angles. While structurally linked to each other, each pebble contains a separate function: library, temporary exhibition, concert and performing arts hall and the lifelong learning tower.
These pebbles, as I mentioned, are leaned on each other based on singular supporting the plural, so that they shift vertical forces into horizontal ones with the aim of carrying them into the foundation.
This results in an individual yet collective maintenance of each pebble.
The geometry of this complex is based on three parameters: the geometrical shape of the pebble; the shape of the entrance opening into the pebble; and the starting point of the line that wraps along the shape of this opening.
Volumes will be clad with same material within the same system, that is semi-shiny stainless-steel pipes, with 67 millimeters (2.6 inches) in diameter. This has to be invented to achieve the complex curvilinear metal skin. These tubes will be wrapped around the shape of the pebbles. Yet, in spite of same material, the result is individually distinctive. The metal material is manmade, futuristic and reflective the strong Arabian sun.
The cladding aims at allowing for both shade and ventilation for the insulated walls. It will collect solar heat which reach surface temperatures around 80°C (176°F). Another function of the cladding will be to mirror heat waves and create air mirages around the pebbles.
Energy efficiency, sustainable issues
A question is raised concerning the façade: the completion of this complex will reveal whether or not the facade will extract heat in order to provide energy to the building and cool the interior. The only information, we know, is that the agency has developed facade robots to continuously move along the pipes while cleaning them. Here tradition meets efficiently innovative technologies.
Pipes will be flattened to generate brise-soleils which purpose is to permit windows to open easily so that natural light and air penetrate the building. This system allows for 100% passive solar shading of the building fabric.
Another aspect of this building is the combination of tradition and innovative technology. As I mentioned above, Snoehetta starts with the locally available elements — material, site conditions (desert), iconography, etc. — to design a building mixed of technology and tradition. The entrance is one of these examples illustrating the combination of innovation and tradition. The entrance will have different functions connecting to the public space which is clad entirely with rammed earth. The goal is to provide stable temperature and humidity.
Yet the choice for rammed earth does not limit to the combination of tradition and innovative technology. Rammed earth appears to be simple and energy efficient: simple to construct, incombustible, and energy efficient since it is thermally massive and durable. Indeed, rammed earth, in the case of the King Abdulaziz Center contributes to overall energy efficiency of the complex. When operating in regions such as Arab regions, the best choice is to use locally available materials since they have low embodied energy. As Arab architecture has historically a strong interest in sustainable building materials and natural building in accordance to Arab history of architecture, the choice for this material is logic.
Project: The Abdulaziz King for World Culture
Typology: Cultural Center
Size: 45,000 sqm.
Status: under construction
Construction start: Autumn 2009
Completion year: End of 2011
All image, plans © Snoehetta