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Design case study: KAFD Conference Centre

CW looks at SOM's design for the new KAFD Conference Centre, Riyadh

King Abdullah Financial District, Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah Financial District, Saudi Arabia

Middle East Architect editor Oliver Ephrgrave looks at Skidmore Owings & Merril's design for the new KAFD Conference Centre, Riyadh.

Location: King Abdullah Financial District, Saudi Arabia
Architect: SOM

The project
Located in the under-development King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, this futuristic complex by SOM provides a multipurpose event hall with operable walls, a 600-seat auditorium with full lecture and cinema support, and a ‘digital forum’ approach that allows all venues to be internally and externally networked.

The conference rooms are clad in electrochromic glass which permits users to change from clear to opaque glass to control light levels and privacy. Sustainability strategies include a solar chimney that uses heat to move air through the main atrium spaces, and a roof containing indigenous desert grasses to minimise irrigation.

The site
King Abdullah selected the facility to serve as the ceremonial venue for the opening of the entire Financial District. The conference centre is located along the perimeter of the district and functions as an attractor building.

It is designed as an extension of the wadi, a sunken open-air pedestrian mall that continuously runs like a river throughout the district.

The Wadi’s faceted, open space network extends to the conference centre, which includes an at-grade landscaped park that softens the site parcel’s boundary. The architects used parametric tools including Rhino and Grasshopper to analyse and optimise how site and construction constraints would impact the proposed design.

The concept
The conference centre is designed as an extension of the desert landscape; its organic profile, green roof and faceted skin link the building with the terrain. Vertical circulation elements and sculptural gardens focus pedestrians approaching from the Wadi on the main public lobby.

Designed to achieve LEED Platinum certification, shading targets in the facade minimise solar heat gain. The team used localised facet analyses on the facade to determine which of the building’s larger facets should exhibit the greatest transparency and opacity.

The details
Water conservation is essential in order to supply the conference centre’s abundant landscaped areas. Grey water runoff collected from adjacent parcels will be stored in underground cisterns and used to irrigate outdoor vegetation.

Inside the centre, continuous green ribbons of planted soffits and gardens link the interior levels with the building’s cladding design.

Ceiling-deployed flexible partitions allow multiple configurations for each conference room. Suspended solar absorption panels totalling 360m2 at the peaks of the atrium draw hot air upwards, accelerating the expulsion of excess heat through operable panels at the roof.

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Construction Week - Issue 741
May 11, 2019