Central Saudi Arabia is a difficult, if not impossible, location in which to create a new sustainable development. Summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees Farenheit, annual rainfall rarely exceeds 4 inches and anyone designing there must account for unpredictable duststorms. Yet this is precisely where the King Abdullah Financial District, Henning Larsen Architect’s master-planned area for the city of Riyadh, is rising. This Danish firm set strict guidelines for all buildings in the district to ensure low levels of heat gain and energy use, as well as adherence to traditional design principles. Their Crystal Towers, with construction scheduled to reach a milestone in several weeks, exemplify the firm’s progressive sustainability code.
The two 18 and 26-storey Crystal Towers are located between the masterplan’s central Financial Plaza and the Wadi, its lush pedestrian thoroughfare. The towers’ raised plinth allows direct passage between these two areas, creating a physical link and also creating a dramatic entrance to the soaring lobbies. The passageway and the district’s many skywalks allow pedestrians to comfortably walk about to their meetings. Ordinarily, the overwhelming heat would force some to instead drive in their air-conditioned cars.
To deal with the site’s intense desert climate, the architects drew inspiration from traditional Islamic architecture and designed recessed, crystalline apertures that are carefully scaled to minimize solar heat gain while still providing views to the surrounding plaza. Combining modern construction methods with traditional aesthetics, the building will be clad with a light local stone cladding that has a long lifetime and low maintenance costs. The project is designed to achieve LEED Certification upon completion of construction.
Perhaps more important than this one building’s sustainable elements are the principles that guided the design of the masterplan. Henning Larsen optimized the proportions of buildings throughout the district and placed them so that they will shade one another. This is expected to reduce the outdoor temperature by 6-8 degrees Celsius.
When the outdoor temperature is still too uncomfortable, people can walk between the buildings and the district’s monorail system through cooled skywalks. While this may raise some eyebrows, Henning Larsen Architects says that the skywalks will be entirely powered by solar energy systems that are integrated into the bridges themselves as well as the buildings.