Tuwaiq Palace is the central cultural facility for the prestigious Diplomatic Quarter (DQ) in Riyadh. The project was designed as a club, offering 24,000 m2 of recreational, social, dining, banqueting, conference, and accommodation functions.
The building’s much celebrated design features an 800-meter long sinuous “Living Wall” that winds on itself and wraps around a lush garden. Mushrooming from the Wall are 5 giant tensile structure “Tents”. Sports facilities and sensational landscaping are provided in the inner gardens and outer spaces generated by the winding Wall.
This unique design touches on two local archetypes, the fortress and the tent, and it incorporates the natural phenomenon of the oasis. In their combination, these elements suggested a new building typology with a special relationship to its context. Much development in Saudi Arabia during the 1980s was based on glossy western building models. Tuwaiq Palace is a bold departure from that trend, touching instead upon easily understood signals from past desert civilizations. This reinterpretation is a daring confrontation with and successful marriage of tradition and high tech.
The design of this award winning masterpiece has resulted from a successful collaboration between Omrania & Associates, Frei Otto (Germany), and Bureau Happold (UK), after qualifying in an international competition in 1981.
The Towaiq Palace is a response to the unique opportunities presented by the site, a design worthy of the majestic promontory plateau overlooking the sweeping Wadi Hanifa below and of the townscape of Riyadh beyond.
As a piece of architecture, the Living Wall is a sinuous spine that winds on itself, and is 800m long, 12m high and 7-13m wide. Its unprecedented strong external form is contrasted by a flowing, continuously changing internal series of spaces. Inside the Wall, intriguing grottoes and walkways provide ever-changing vistas and moods, in a balanced combination of formality and fun. Visitors are encouraged to discover for themselves a variety of spatial and environmental experiences. A breathtaking panoramic view of the city and the surrounding rocky plateaus is provided by the spine’s rooftop walkway.
The Wall gives the image of a fortress with its mass, local stone cladding, and infrequently scattered openings. However, it also blends seamlessly with the colour and form of the surrounding landscape.
The Palace has three Teflon-coated glass fiber tents (fanning towards the exterior of the Wall) and two ceramic tile-clad cable tents (facing the internal Oasis). These Tents shelter public functions of the club such as main lounges, receptions, multi-purpose halls, restaurants, and a cafe.
The Teflon tents are designed with a double skin to allow air to circulate in between layers. The outer skin is slightly translucent and the inner one is porous to light. The Tents reflect heat and effectively reduce solar radiation. The light is restful to the eye yet able to support considerable vegetation on the interior.
The main idea of the landscaping is to provide a stark contrast between the lush greenery of the garden inside the Wall and the arid nature of the rocky plateau outside. The garden offers a detailed promenade with lots of shade, and changing scenes of trees, shrubs, ground cover, pavilion, ponds, levels, benches, winding paths, etc. all stacked within a 10 minute walk. The landscaping outside offers a vast unconfined panorama of the large and simple but dramatic forms of ravines, cliffs, rock formations, plantings, and the skyline of a city beyond. This contrast is what gives the Oasis a pleasant atmosphere to every visitor who experience it.