Twelve years ago I asked, “is the built environment of Muslims ‘ours’, or is it threateningly, and increasingly not ‘ours’?”. No doubt this concern had been in me, unarticulated, much longer than that, perhaps since my childhood when I first learnt about the glories of Bagdad, Damascus and so many other Islamic cities of light and fame. I was joined, and have been sustained since, by thoughtful men and women in pummelling the question, bullying it, challenging, dividing, multiplying and expanding it, until it had taken so many facets that it became an aspiration, rather than an enquiry, a vision, not just a hope.
Shortlisted Project – 2014-2016 Award Cycle: King Fahad National Library, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The King Fahad National Library is one of the most important cultural buildings in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was completed and went into use for its intended purpose in November 2013. The design of King Fahad National Library functions as the central driving force behind a piece of urban development and rearrangement, and combines the challenge of designing within the existing building stock with respect for Arabian culture.
The cuboid shape of the new building surrounds the old 1980s library building on all sides, thus giving the National Library a new appearance in the cityscape. It is clad by lozenge-shaped textile awnings, which playfully combine revelation and concealment.
White membranes, supported by a three-dimensional, tensile-stressed steel cable structure, act as sunshades and reinterpret the Arabian tent structure tradition in a low-energy way.
One particular challenge for the facade is the wide range of temperatures in Riyadh. In summer the steel cables can heat up to a temperature of 80°C and will expand while in winter they can shrink because of night time temperatures sometimes below zero. These effects had to be taken into account in optimising the tension of the cables. Thermal comfort was increased and energy consumption significantly reduced by layered ventilation and floor cooling for the first time in the Arab world.
The old building is now an internal stack, forming the centre of knowledge within the new library. Its dome has been reconstructed in steel and glass to bring in daylight and the former roof of the existing building now provides a well-lit reading landscape.
The main entrance hall is on the ground floor, and a separate area for women is provided on the first floor.
An imaginative expansion that doubles available space and provides a new skin for an existing structure.
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Researched & Compiled by Arif Ali