Playing a key part in Riyadh’s urban development, the 240,000-square-metre Al Faisaliah Complex is centred around Saudi Arabia’s first skyscraper - a distinctive 267-metre-high office tower - alongside a five-star hotel, a banqueting and conference centre, luxury apartments and a three-storey retail mall. The scheme carefully balances cost-effectiveness and flexibility to produce buildings which are efficient in services, planning and operation, and yet is responsive to the Middle Eastern climate.
At the heart of the complex is the office tower. Square in plan, the building is designed around a compact central core which tapers to a point, with four main corner columns defining its unique silhouette. Punctuating stages up the building’s layered facade, observation decks correspond with giant K-braces, which transfer loads to the corner columns. Each section between these decks is clad in silver- anodised aluminium panels with cantilevered sunshading, which minimise glare, allowing the use of non-reflective, energy-efficient glass and providing maximum control over the internal environment. Above its 30 floors of office space, the tower houses a restaurant set within a golden glass sphere 200 metres above ground level. The observation deck below this globe provides a breathtaking panorama of Riyadh and the surrounding landscape, while above it, at the building’s pinnacle, the tower narrows to a brightly lit lantern, topped by a stainless-steel finial.
The tower itself is set back from the King Fahd Highway to create a landscaped plaza. Beneath this a banqueting hall can accommodate activities ranging from Islamic wedding ceremonies for up to 2,000 people to conferences for up to 3,400. The high degree of flexibility of its internal spaces is achieved by a unique long-span arch system which provides a column-free space 57 metres wide and 81 metres long, with a moveable partition system that can divide the hall into a maximum of sixteen separate rooms. These areas are integrated into the rest of the complex by a five-storey lobby at the tower’s base, also linking the hotel to the north and the apartments and shopping mall to the south. Illuminating this space, a spectacular coloured-glass wall by the artist Brian Clarke announces the entrance to the complex while referencing images from Riyadh’s desert and Islamic culture.