"Al-Rajhi Bank Headquarters"
Designer(s): Gary Haney, AIA; Peter Magill, AIA; Stephen Apking, AIA; Aybars Asci, AIA; Chas Peppers; Mark Igou; Dean Mackenzie; Noppon Pisutharnon; Yasemin Kologlu; James Mallory; Neil Katz; Jim Hickerson, United States
Category: Architecture Categories, Professional
About the Artist
Al-Rajhi Bank Headquarters is a 125,000 SM office complex, located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The program is comprised of offices, praying space, 600 seat auditorium, banking hall, cafeteria, roof garden and underground parking structure for 1,100 cars. The massing of the complex is organized around an iconic tower that rises from a water courtyard surrounded by a series of land forms and pavilions. Unrestricted by the zoning envelope but limited to thirty floors by Riyadh Zoning Regulations, the 257m tower has a typical floor height of 5.5m, and a soaring 50 meter praying space suspended within.
The tower is conceived as four fair faced concrete piers shielding a central space. Reminiscent of the ancient monuments of the Middle East, the monolithic columns achieve a unique monumentality for the bank, while responding to the harsh desert climate with an internal oasis-like central space.
The dialectic relationship between the four piers and the central space works at multiple layers achieving a rich reading for the project. The concrete piers lend a scalelessness to the project, which is key to its monumental reading. Whereas the clearly indicated office floor slabs remind us that this whole complex is occupied within. The monolithic nature of the concrete is contrasted by the tectonic nature of the bridging steel frame and the glass infill. As the massiveness of the piers signifies a permanency in an inherently nomadic landscape, the tectonic steel frame indicates temporariness. This is even more evident in the ephemeral cable structures of the lobby and the roof canopy. Structural and infrastructural distinctions are also clearly expressed in the building form. The four piers as mega columns are the only vertical support structure for the tower. As all the building services are located in the piers the served spaces are pure and uninterrupted.
The tower’s simple yet elegant form conceals a series of complex transformations. The central space defined by the piers is always a square shape which aligns with the Riyadh City Grid at the ground level, and then twists towards Mecca at 50 meters above grade to form the praying space. As the tower rises, it continues its rotation to reach the most advantageous angle for both city views and solar orientation.
The configuration of the four piers gives a clear reference to the metaphorical richness of square courtyards marked by iw?ns – symbolic gateways– in Islamic cosmology. The praying level as the ‘heart’ of the project is where the geometry of the transformation reaches symmetry in all directions. The four gateways are centered at the inner square, which aligns with Mecca and becomes parallel to the outside square of the tower’s geometry. The praying space is nothing but a platform suspended in the space marked by these four concrete iw?ns.
The project challenges the generic high rise office typology that has a centralized core and a standard lease span by fragmenting and relocating the core functions at the outside and thus creating an inside-out tower. The office space is a 1200 SM column free open floor supported by an innovative structural armature bridging 36 meters to the concrete piers. While all the building core functions are located at the concrete piers, lateral distribution systems of building services are located nine feet deep in the structural armature. This gives the floor plate maximum flexibility, a non-interfering maintenance program and secure banking operations. The clear distinction of the piers from the internal glass pavilions resurrects a modernist tradition of expressing the separation of served spaces from services.