Breakwater Beacon, Jeddah

Urban Art Projects produced a modern take on the light house for KAUST



The Breakwater Beacon is a contemporary lighthouse designed by artist Dan Tobin, of Urban Art Projects, for the Saudi Aramco-sponsored King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (Kaust).

The beacon’s tall slim structure is only just complete, with interior finishing ongoing, but it has already become the inadvertent symbol of the nearby university, says Tobin.

“It was designed in response to the [Saudi Aramco’s] request for a contemporary beacon, but is now used on the university’s marketing collateral,” said Tobin. “So it’s been very successful from the client’s point of view. The initial brief was to have a piece 30m in height, but that’s just half of what it ended up being; it just got a life of its own.”

The base of the beacon is an oval shape, about 28m long on its largest side and 25m wide. The height of the internal atrium, before the spire starts is 22m and the main entry is 12m high.


Commissioned by HOK, architects for the Kaust project, Tobin was asked to come up with a modern take on the lighthouse. The design selected, a structurally complicated honeycomb of hexagons, was one of three proposals he put forward. Despite the design’s complexity, the external structure was built in just 16 weeks, a pace Tobin would have liked to see relaxed a little.

The reward though is a structure that will eventually glow from the inside thanks to 150 or so lights, which will grow more intense near the top. The interior atrium of the beacon will be clad in marble and furnished with bleachers, allowing visitors a little cool repose and the chance to admire the reflection pond, also due to be included. The interior temperature of the open air structure is considerably lower than outside, thanks to the wind-tower effect the design induces.

“It’s almost like there is a reverential feel when you enter the huge internal atrium,” said Tobin.

“Dappled light in the internal space makes it more protected from the heat of summer.

“The idea was that the building material skin is pre-cast concrete, which will gradually weather. Stepping inside, you have the soft quality skin of the marble, for a more tactile environment on a human scale.”

A tough engineering challenge, the tower is self-supporting thanks to Robert Bird, an engineering firm and the construction team supplied by Saudi Binladen Group. For the first 22m each hexagon that makes up the exterior pattern is different, a fact that meant there were three teams of surveyors working on the project for the duration of the construction.

Three different pieces of software were used to complete the design, which was actually begun on gaming software. The result has created a landmark for a university that is just starting to put itself on the map.

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