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Mon 13 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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The Riyadh Tower

ARCHITECT brings you Atkins’ newest project in the kingdom.

The Riyadh Tower
The Riyadh Tower
One of Tabet’s original concept sketches.
The Riyadh Tower
A frontal view elevation drawing.
The Riyadh Tower
The Riyadh Tower is KSA’s first building to feature a screen system façade.
The Riyadh Tower
The building’s location called for a design that was contemporary, dynamic and modern.
The Riyadh Tower
A profile elevation drawing.
The Riyadh Tower
Birdseye views of the tower and the site.
The Riyadh Tower
A close-up of the screen system façade.
The Riyadh Tower
An illustration of how the screen wraps around the tower and the marketplace.
The Riyadh Tower
Atkins used shading analysis to maximise passive design strategies.
The Riyadh Tower
Atkins used sun path analysis to determine orientation.
The Riyadh Tower
A view of the tower from directly above. This view illustrates the need for elliptical floor plates.
The Riyadh Tower
AAAG wanted a building that would be luxurious, modern and exclusive.

ARCHITECT brings you Atkins’ newest project in the kingdom.

Having been involved in the region for around 40 years and despite leaving KSA in 1999, Atkins recently returned to Saudi Arabia under its subsidiary company Faithful & Gould to open an office in Riyadh.

The Riyadh Tower is an exemplar development that demonstrates the possibility of a low-energy and low-emission facility that is not only world-class, but also located in a hot climate.

Given the capital city’s stated plans for investment in urban planning, civil infrastructure, transportation and buildings, the timing could not have been better for Atkins—which is seeking to open a second office in Jeddah.

During the first six months of 2009, Atkins won a number of planning competitions, some preliminary building design work and a bit of Systems/M&E design work for the Makkah metro but, at the moment, its flagship project in KSA is the 224m The Riyadh Tower.

Fresh off its recent win in the category for ‘Best Office/Retail/Commercial development’ at Cityscape KSA in early June, The Riyadh Tower is poised to be the third tallest building in Saudi Arabia behind Riyadh’s Kingdom Centre (311m) and the King Faisaliah Tower (267m).

Atkins was approached by the Al Ajlan Allied Group (AAAG) in 2008 to provide architectural, structural, MEP engineering and sustainable design services for the 63000m² Riyadh Tower complex and, based on the client brief, it was clear AAAG was seeking something iconic and luxurious that would emphasise its high-profile site near the King Faisaliah Tower.

“[AAAG] approached Atkins directly and asked us to design an elite iconic office and retail development that would portray a lifestyle that is equal parts luxury and business, as well as, demonstrate the environmental and cultural aspirations of the locality,” explains Joe Tabet, associate director & head of architecture for Atkins Abu Dhabi and its regional hotel specialist for the Middle East.

With 42 storeys of office space, a 60m skyline void, four levels of underground parking and a retail souk that extends the architectural language throughout the site, The Riyadh Tower complex aims to be the city’s third architectural landmark.

“Considering its location, we felt the need for a dynamic, modern and contemporary design approach with considerable respect for climate and culture,” explains Tabet when asked about the unique site. “The basic concept was derived from existing urban fabric blending with local patterns, forms, cultural and urban elements.” The design

Receiving the proverbial green light from AAAG, Atkins created a design that focused on simple lines, elegance and timelessness. To that end, The Riyadh Tower is the first building in KSA to feature a screen system facade which wraps around the tower and covers the drop-off zone and adjacent souk-like marketplace.

The mashrabiya skin around the tower protects and shades it from the harsh northwest and southeast sunlight, allowing soft natural light to filter through to the offices.

Its complex single-curved shape accommodates the intricate pattern of the facades that extend up and over the tower. The continuous freeform extruded geometry of the shape along with the wrapping of the facade from one side to the other produce an architectural gesture of distinctive form and a singular mass amidst the urban fabric.

According to Tabet, the obscured façade was strongly influenced by the concept of the mashrabiya, an element of traditional Arabian architecture that has been used on street-facing windows in the region for hundreds of years.

The function of The Riyadh Tower’s mashrabiya-like facade is twofold: first, it is an effective symbol of the barrier between public and private space. This is a role mashrabiya have played in Arabian culture and architecture for generations and one that is revived in a contemporary application. The second function is the more practical provision of shade and protection from the hot summer sun.

A slightly more superficial interpretation could also apply. Traditionally mashrabiya were said to be the ornaments of the rich as they used to cost a lot of time and money to produce.

However, according to Tabet, the mashrabiya is a purely functional device: “Natural lighting is important to offices,” he says. “The mashrabiya skin around the tower protects and shades it from the harsh northwest and southeast sunlight, allowing soft natural light to filter through to the offices.”

The street-level architecture is one of texture and pattern. The tower has integrated shading to maximise its considered orientation while the souk is an outdoor space with one-storey pavilions laid out in a traditional manner to channel the prevailing breezes between and over them.

Interior architecture

Taking advantage of The Riyadh Tower’s location, offices occupy more than 35 floors of the tower and are carefully oriented to maximise the views of the city and the desert landscape.An open-plan concept of the typical tower floor plate was adopted for flexibility within the space. In fact, the lower-level floor plates are formed by combining two side-by-side ellipses.

These floor plates gently taper into a rectangular plane as the tower ascends to its peak of 224 meters, forming an elegant, distinctive and effective visual tribute to the locality.

Our primary aim is to ensure co2 emissions are minimized through reducing energy usage where possible and promoting energy efficiency throughout the project.

According to Tabet, sun path analysis was used extensively to understand how shadows would fall on the building, how they would affect the inhabitants and whether or not they would obscure or impact the surrounding structures.

The intelligent skin of The Riyadh Tower can sense the internal needs of the skyscraper and its users and can adjust levels of light, shade and air circulation accordingly.

The skin of the façade of the tower has been designed in such a way as to define modularity at human scale. The screen system of the façade is identified by two key modules that get repeated along the façade transforming from mega-webs to micro-web pieces.

Green credentials

With the greening of architecture around the world and the existence of the budding Saudi Green Building Council, sustainability is at the forefront of KSA’s burgeoning architecture industry.

According to Tabet, even the earliest stages of design on The Riyadh Tower complied with worldwide initiatives to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, employ passive design strategies, improve engineering systems and create recovery strategies. “Our primary aim is to ensure CO2 emissions are minimized through reducing energy usage where possible and promoting energy efficiency throughout the project,” he says.

Passive design strategies including analyses of building orientation, site location, shading, solar insolation and view were all conducted to ensure sustainability.

Moreover, summer insolation analysis was used to optimize building orientation, determine window placements and develop a design that would maximise external shading.Decreasing solar radiation, reducing cooling loads and offsetting conventional cooling requirements where possible are all feasible energy strategies that can be credited to the design of the tower, the initial studies and the vision of the client. High performance glazing was also chosen to limit solar heat gain by blocking infrared and UV rays wherever possible.

“The successful integration of physical and social design throughout the development creates an architecture that is both environmentally and socially sustainable,” explains Tabet. “The Riyadh Tower is an exemplar development that demonstrates the possibility of a low-energy and low-emission facility that is not only world-class, but also located in a hot climate.”


Like any project, The Riyadh Tower came with its share of challenges. According to Tabet, one of the most notable challenges was designing and developing the skin of the tower. “Its three-dimensional curves made up of horizontal as well as vertical convex lines required special attention,” explains Tabet. “The intricate mashrabiya pattern had to be translated into a simple network of curvilinear surfaces to achieve a contemporary look.”

A second significant challenge was to maintain a floor plate efficiency of 80% over the entire floor area. Tabet explains: “As the tower rises, its floor plate gradually decreases in size. After several design studies and exercises, the tower core is reduced proportionally and accordingly for the smaller plates at the upper floors. Zoning the vertical transportation and utilizing high-rise and low-rise lifts had to also be taken into consideration.”

Achieving timelessness

From its inception, AAAG wanted a landmark building. Words like “luxury”, “modern” and “elegance” were bandied about and Atkins sought to fulfil that brief with an aesthetic yet feasible solution.

“We visualized The Riyadh Tower as a modern landmark that led to developing a fundamental form with simple lines and shapes,” explains Tabet. “The tower’s unique blend of architecture, artistry and culture manifest the character of a well-balanced landmark.”

Tabet has always pointed to the collaborative spirit between members of the Atkins and AAAG teams as the biggest success story of the project thus far.

It was only through a large-scale joint effort that the design team was able to overcome the challenges and meet what were quite stringent requirements of the client brief.

“Team spirit is the key to the success of this project,” says Tabet. “Only through this were we able to achieve an architecture that is both environmentally and socially sustainable.”

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