March 6, 2010 | Maryam Eskandari
Le Corbusier’s dream has become a real proposal for Perkins+Will. Le Corbusier must have cracked a smile in his grave when Perkins + Will architect announced their recent receipt of the “Architectural Review / MIPIM Future Projects award” in the tallest building category for their proposal for the Al- Birr foundation headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Perkins + Will “Garden Tower” explicitly states that it was designed to reinterpret the typology of an urban tower through an exploration of Le Corbusier’s brise-soleil. While the brise-soleil is nothing new on towers across the world, Perkins + Will’s proposal is a prominent and large-scale addition to the new high-tech ‘green’ adaptations of old concepts.
The composition of the building is regulated towards the extreme solar exposure and heat conditions of the region. Perkins + Will also state that they drew on what they identified as Saudi historical precedents, such as gardens, minarets, and the mashrabiya, to develop a whole new innovative design concepts for the elevation and sections. How large is their region of inspiration, though? While they obviously go beyond lip service to context, walled gardens aren’t exactly a famous Saudi tradition, to say the very least.
The firm states that the building’s ability to allow for a fluid dialogue between plan and sections generated for a functional solution as well as a symbolic correlation to both the region and as a physical representation of the Foundation’s philanthropic mission for underprivileged children and families.
The design begins with a simple orthogonal floor plates, 1000 x 1200 sq meters which form an undemanding leasable office space. The Spiral Garden carves out from the rooftop terrace into the monolithic volume, creating a ribbon of microclimate open terraces, which are stacked for effective cooling allowing for the hanging courtyards gardens to be explored by the occupants and users of the building. The building is one of the first innovative designs that is now a prototype for high rises in the hot and dry climates, that not only responds to context and climate, but also attempts sensitivity to the culture of the region. The transparent façade reveals the embodying activity of the building and celebrates the dynamic movement that circulates both horizontally and vertically throughout the building. The inverted skin façade concepts introduces the mashrabiya, or lattice screen, concept, to balance the static and dynamic elements of expression in a permeable yet delicate way. The skin of the building was first mapped out through a series of exercises that created a varying level of opacity based on the study of solar, spatial and contextual studies.
This complex yet simplified enclosure is designed with lightweight glass that is then sandwiched between photocatalytic precast concrete which is sealed with fly-ash as a structural reinforcement for the tower. Beyond the well-integrated tectonics of the building, it has the ability to control solar and heat gain, operates as a light diffusing system along while preserving the dramatic views to the heart of Riyadh. The tectonics of the building allows for louvers to change, based on the sun angles, just the adequate amount in order to expose the perforated northern elevation view and to allow for cooling breezed and the transition to opacity onto the southern elevation. The unbuilt tower, is to be illuminated internally at night, allowing for the enclosure to expose the apertures, hence resulting in entertaining, yet brilliant design pattern. However, during the day, the light and shadow effect are inverted internally through the multi-story open spaces.
Robert Goodwin, AIA, LEED AP, Principal and New York Office Design Director of Perkins and Will led the team through the challenges of designing a sustainable urban tower, while closely engaging with the specific environmental and cultural characteristics of Riyadh, yet interpreting them into a modern, yet symbolic notion of “Islamic Architecture”. As quoted by in Bustler.net, Goodwin explained: “The design explores the typology of an urban tower in the extreme environmental conditions of Riyadh through a reinterpretation of three iconic elements of Islamic Culture – the spiral minaret, the walled garden and the mashrabiya. The design approach synthesized the symbolic and functional qualities of these elements into a unified expression of the Foundation’s altruistic mission to protect, replenish and care for the disadvantaged.”
Perkins and Will were awarded the American Institute of Architects, New York State Design Award for Merit in commercial and office category. The 590,000 sq. ft. Al- Birr foundation headquarters is yet to be completed. The Al- Birr foundation is a non-profit organization focused on poverty and caring for underprivileged families and children.