- Environment & Infrastructure
- Strategic consulting
- Specialist consulting
- The Living City
- Happold Consulting
Located in the Diplomatic Quarter on the northwest perimeter of Riyadh stands Tuwaiq Palace, a complex originally designed as a diplomatic club but now used by the Saudi government as a hospitality centre. The demands of the brief were for a sinuous stonewalled design to create a stable protection from the harsh environment, while the tented structures rising from it respect the local cultures and tradition.
Arriyadh Development Authority
Buro Happold services
Structural engineering, building services engineering, fire engineering, civil engineering
Chief among the requirements of the building and its environs was an ability to remain comfortable in the extreme heat of the Middle East. The building itself had to respect the traditional designs of Arab culture, while offering an advanced internal environment for diplomats and other visitors.
Within the grounds of the palace are a series of tent-like structures that were to be used for more informal events, such as entertaining. These tents needed to echo the design style of the region as well as providing their function and meeting high aesthetic standards.
The entire building was designed in the days before advanced CAD software, so the creation of a sinuous wall and structures of this complexity was a highly intricate process. This also made the necessary redesign of the site an interesting task.
By mirroring the region’s architectural landscape Tuwaiq Palace fits in with existing structures, but stands out in its interesting approach. The 800m long inclined wall surrounds the complex and is accessible by diplomats to take a tour of the facility.
The entire courtyard was designed to provide shade and shelter from hot winds, while the buildings themselves use local stone of a heavy mass to shield their occupants and keep the environment habitable. 20,000m2 of the total 24,000m2 of the complex is air-conditioned to maintain a comfortable internal atmosphere.
In the courtyard, two tents face the interior garden and are used for receptions and banqueting. They are of cable net construction with insulation and tile cladding and blend well with the intensive landscaping of the garden. They can also be used for formal functions and can be environmentally controlled with relative ease. The tents facing outwards, towards the plateau, are of translucent fabric construction that makes a striking contrast with the massive wall of the structure against the desert backdrop.
The Heart Tent, the garden’s centrepiece, has a canopy made from 2,020 8mm thick tiles of stained glass. Designed by Bettina Otto, daughter of the palace’s architect Frei Otto, the tiles create a traditional pattern for the tent.
Buro Happold Partner, Eddie Pugh, remembers how his newly purchased calculator, that enabled 50 steps to be programmed so that the geometry of intersection of circles could be calculated at the press of a button, played a pivotal role in the realisation of the design. Nowadays the capabilities of software mean that much more elaborate buildings are possible, yet 20 years after completion this building still looks superb.
In the days before advanced CAD was in use, this building and garden required a particularly thorough approach to its design. By taking inspiration from traditional structures, we created a complex that shelters and shields its occupants from intense heat and winds, while maintaining a high level of aesthetic standards. At the courtyard’s centre stands the Heart Tent – a magnificent cable net structure that, even today, remains entrancing to its visitors. Occupants can access the inclined wall to take in the entire complex, and its continuing use by the Saudi government as a hospitality centre is a testament to the quality and long standing nature of the palace’s design.