How does Saudi Arabia find a place in the modern world, when the oil stops flowing? Or even a place in today’s world, that isn’t entirely dominated by one, single industry? The state-owned oil giant, Saudi Aramco, hopes to answer that problem within the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, which the Norwegian architectural practice Snøhetta has designed and is currently completing, at Aramco's behest, on the eastern, coastal city of Dhahran.
The building stands – some below and some above ground – like a wind-hewn rock formation near Aramco’s headquarters, and has lofty intentions. Saudi Aramco describes it as “an institution of inspiration and discovery, where science, art and culture come together in new horizons of opportunity.”
“We aim to stimulate minds and inspire new generations of inventors, innovators and leaders, to move decisively away from a one-resource economy,” says a spokesperson for Saudi Aramco.
To this end, the Snøhetta has combined the age-old rammed, earth construction technique for the foundation with a façade of stainless steel tubes, intricately and individually formed and bent, then wrapped around the building. These pipes provide all-important shading and give the center its exceptional appearance.
The underground rooms house the archives and museum, and focus on the past. The ground level has performing arts spaces, representing the present. And the soaring 18-floor Knowledge Tower accommodates the Lifelong Learning Centre, rising up into the future.
For more large-scale, contemporary architectural ventures, order a copy of MAD Works, our new MAD Architects book; for greater insight into an oil-free future, get an ibook copy of The World We Made.