King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

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Location: Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. University campus and town center

A 6.5-million-square-foot, world-class research university and new town are being built on a picturesque 3,200-acre site along the Red Sea on the West coast of Saudi Arabia. The plan encompasses the 4-million sq-ft campus, a commercial town center for 10,000-12,000 people, and the entire public realm.

The client has initiated this campus and new town development as a nation-changing project that will help transform Saudi Arabia's economy and reform its higher education system. The goal for the research institutes and centers is to inspire a new age of scientific achievement in the Kingdom, the region and the world.

To reflect its prominence as the center of activity, the university is centrally located. The plan organizes the campus around traditional planning principles that include an entry quadrangle and a central pedestrian spine connecting all buildings. In addition to having access to world-class research and teaching facilities, potential residents would like to work and live in a vibrant community with a range of lifestyle amenities, and thus the plan provides a full spectrum of community and residential uses.

University Square, a grand plaza and center of activity, links the university with the commercial center, providing a seamless transition between the academic and community zones. It houses community functions including a theater, public library, post office, recreational services and other activities that support campus living.

The commercial center provides an intersection for campus life and daily activities, balancing complex academic structures with an indigenous architecture rooted in the cultural traditions of Saudi Arabia. Influenced by the regions "Old Quarter" souks and markets, the center is characterized by a pedestrian scale environment and complementary architectural style. An interlaced series of plazas, walkways, walkable connector streets, open space and bridges provide access to dining, retail, student housing, and residential neighborhoods.

The plan also protects the development's unique site on the Red Sea, which features very shallow beach conditions and fragile mangrove lagoons. A spectacular coral-reed ecosystem is preserved for use as marine sanctuary and research area. The development manages water issues in this rain-scarce region in a responsible way, using the sites grey water for toilet flushing and irrigation, and a rainwater retention system that serves the campus's hardscape.

Lessons learned: The importance of implementing clear design guidelines in order to influence Saudi Arabia's traditional development patterns and set a regional precedent for creating environmentally responsible developments. This project is located in an area of the world where there is a strong regional disposition towards conventional suburban development. The team worked hard and collaborated with an enlightened client organization to go against this approach and instead create good traditional urbanism. Also much of the development currently occurring in this part of the world is not particularly sensitive to the environment. This projects sensitivity to the natural environment and fragile ecosystems along the Red Sea coastal plain has set a strong regional precedent for creating environmentally responsible large-scale developments in the region.

Transect Zone(s): T1 preserve, T3 sub-urban, T4 general, T5 center.
Status: 1-25% Built
Guiding Charter Principle(s): Principles, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Features: Civic buildings & parks.
Land area (in acres): 3200
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
Total project cost (in local currency):
Retail area (in sq. ft.): 163041
Office area (in sq. ft.):
Industrial area (in sq. ft.): 25831080
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 6638
Civic uses (type and size): Academic, Residential, Commercial, Recreational, Hospitality & Religious
Parks & green space (in acres): 290
Residential types: Townhouse/rowhouse/maisonette.
Project team designers: Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, Inc.
Project team developers: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Previous site status: Undeveloped greenfield

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: - 2009