We applaud any individual or organization that seeks to green up their portfolio, and Saudi Arabia is no exception. Really, it’s difficult to blame the Kingdom’s residents for striking it rich with oil, expanding their quality of life, and not wanting to let it go even as the world gets hotter and ecosystems collapse. But sustainable Saudi architecture exists in a class of its own.
We have on one end simple earth architecture such as Hassan Fathy’s famous works in Egypt, which requires very little imported materials and have virtually no environmental impact, and then we have the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) designed by Henning Larsen Architects (HLA). Even though all kinds of alternative energy and passive design techniques have been incorporated into its design, this 3,300,000 sq m mixed use center is audacious, expensive, and about as glitzy as it gets.
HLA is a well-respected firm, and are particularly well-known for greening contemporary urban architecture, so the KAFD design is definitely worth celebrating. Although the renders depict buildings with stereotypical Arab fanfare, there are several features that make this district less obnoxious than other developments in the region.
Water features will bring temperatures down by up to 8 degrees Celsius and shading to will mitigate excess solar gain such that very little mechanical cooling will have to be used.
The various retail, financial, residential, and cultural facilities will have green roofs that provide insulation and smart lighting solutions that will further ensure that energy use is kept to a minimum.
KAFD will be a pedestrian-friendly center in Riyadh with a monorail and solar-powered skywalk bridges. If the Saudis can be convinced to leave their cars at home, these will keep vehicular pollution down.
Facades will include building integrated solar cells and the cladding material will be sourced locally — according to World Architecture News — so that the project’s carbon footprint will be less onerous.
All in all, energy consumption (when compared to similar developments in the country) will be halved – an impressive feat.
Nonetheless, a major driver of climate change and resource depletion is this sense of entitlement – the notion that the few should be allowed to use up more than their fair share of natural resources while the rest of the world scrambles for the scraps. Eventually, even Saudi will have to scale back to something much more modest.