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Case Study: Burj Rafal

P&T's new tower set to be Saudi capital's highest

Burj Rafal to be the tallest tower in Riyadh
Burj Rafal to be the tallest tower in Riyadh
Burj Rafal
Burj Rafal

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Client: Rafal Group
Designer: P&T
Location: Riyadh

This 62-storey tower in the heart of Riyadh, will be one of only three tall towers in the city and contain the first Kempinski hotel in Saudi Arabia. The tower – which will be the tallest in the Saudi capital – will include 260 luxury apartments, a 297-room hotel, and up to 6,000 sq2 of retail and a 2,000 sq2 ballroom in an attached podium. The tower has a glass façade, while the podium utilises local Riyadh stone.

The 19,315 m2 site is located on King Fahd Road near the rapidly developing King Abdullah Financial Center. The site will contain a total of 96,575 m2 of residential, hospitality, retail and offices.

Stephan Frantzen, executive director of P&T, said that the intention was always for the Burj Rafal to be the tallest tower in Riyadh, but that the firm also wanted to design something that was distinctly Saudi Arabian. Frantzen was able to do so with the podium, which uses local stone and traditional triangular patterns. “From a distance the tower is what you see, but once you get onto the site itself, it is the podium that becomes the focus. That gives the ambience and the character once you are there,” he said.

Security was a key concern for the designers in a country where terrorism is a very real threat. P&T designed the entrance way so that cars have to make a sharp turn and then pass through a barrier, while the high stone walls reduce the risk of bomb blasts reaching the tower. “In Riyadh you have these towers with machine guns out the top protecting some of the buildings, it’s serious. With so many users on a fairly small site, Burj Rafal was a real challenge,” Frantzen said. Seperate entrances have been provided for residents and guests.

It is often argued that tall glass towers are exactly what the region doesn’t need, and Frantzen admits that he has been grilled on the subject by other architects. “I think that the majority of projects that one does should be very serious about environmental issues, but I still believe that there should be room for some things that go beyond that,” he said. “I think it’s like eating soya beans for every meal, it’s boring, you need a tiramisu now and then.”

P&T inherited the initial Burj Rafal design from another firm, who had intended to include elaborate louvers on the exterior, but they were quick to scrap this design feature. “We convinced the client that it might not look good from the inside. If you buy an apartment on the 60th floor you don’t want your view blocked by some random shape that makes the façade look interesting,” Frantzen said.

The firm was also keen to prevent the Burj Rafal from getting caked in dust, a problem that effects the city’s other two tall towers. They did so by taking the money that would have been spent on the glass louvers of the previous design, and spending it on high performance glass. “We have a lot of wind in Riyadh, and with the wind you have the sand and dust. The smoother it is the more the wind just carries on. It’s a very easy façade to clean, and to keep clean,” he said.

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Construction Week - Issue 725
Jan 19, 2019