The National Museum, Saudi Arabia by Moriyama & Teshima

Acclaimed comtemporary architecture for a place of national identity designed by the Canadian architects

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Curved west wall recalls the sand dunes of the Saudi desert
All images, plans and information courtesy of Moriyama & Teshima; Photos by Ajon Moriyama

Opened in 1999, only 26 months after first concept sketches were brought to paper The National Museum in Riyadh designed by Moriyama & Teshima has been a great success attracting visitors with its sensible contemporary interpretation of local heritage. During its first two weeks, over 16,000 people visited the new cultural venue which was part of the government’s plan to widen its economic base and to expand opportunities for leisure and cultural activities. Since then the Museum has become a popular location staging cultural events and official functions. The outdoor landscaped gardens are particularly busy after sunset when families venture out to enjoy the cool evening air.

 

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Surrounded by buildings transplanted from other cultures and other climates, the Saudis praise the way the Museum “seems to rise from Saudi soil.” Pride in Saudi achievements, fueled by enthusiasm for the Museum, has encouraged the Kingdom to open its doors to tourists for the first time. According to The Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf, the National Museum was a contributing factor in Riyadh’s designation by UNESCO as the cultural capital of the Arab World in 2000.

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The wall’s curve embraces the direction of Mecca

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Main entrance

The Challenge:

At the time Moriyama & Teshima won the international design competition for the new National Museum, the city of Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia, was carrying out an economic development program which aimed at widening its economic base and expanding opportunities for leisure and cultural activities. The new National Museum complex was meant to be akey strategy of the program. The task was to create a museum, including the building and exhibits, that would inspire national pride in Saudi culture and history and promote museum-going as a leisure activity, a fairly new concept in Saudi Arabia. The official opening of the Museum was scheduled to coincide with the centennial of Saudi unification resulting in an extremely tight schedule to meet the non-negotiable deadline.

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East tower punctuates the Administration Wing.

The Solution:

The winning design for the National Museum and the other half dozen buildings in the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre evolved from intense study of the country’s rich history and 600-million-year-old geology. The architects’ research revealed the need for the Museum to express the enduring nature of Saudi culture and to assert the Kingdom’s position in a global economy. Moriyama & Teshima identified the building as an instrument to help Saudis define themselves for the rest of the world.

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Arcade provides respite from sun and heat.

The design approach drew inspiration from the local vernacular architectural tradition of simple adobe walls, restrained surface decoration, and simple devices to provide for human comfort where temperatures easily exceed 40 degrees C. The Museum’s central design feature is a curved west wall of local limestone that sweeps along Murabba Square and the Palace Garden in a broad welcoming gesture towards Mecca. At sunset, the wall glows with the red of the setting sun, then gradually subsides to welcome the cool of evening.

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elevation

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lower ground floor plan
 
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2nd floor plan
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section
 

The visual effect is of a canyon wall, a reminder of Riyadh’s beginnings as a desert oasis. Granite from the Kingdom’s five regions is used throughout. Thick walls and small windows reduce heat gain. Arcades, overhead trellises, and lattice partitions provide shade. Fountains and pools create humidity and lower temperatures. Interior open-air courtyards collect cool evening air.

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Lobby, looking south.

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Lobby, looking north.

Wherever possible the Museum reaches out to the public, helping to overcome any feelings of exclusivity, enticing passers-by to have a look inside. Entrances are located on all four sides of the complex. The large entrance lobby is open throughout the day and evening, independent of the exhibition areas, and offers a public prayer area. The surrounding gardens have water play areas for children.

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North end of Bridge.

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South end of Bridge.

To meet the project’s demanding schedule, M&T assembled an international team of consultants with special expertise in museums and working in the Middle East to deliver the museum on time 26 month after the first concept sketches.

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View into Bridge at second level representing journey from “Ignorance” to “Enlightenment.”

The 35,840-square-meter National Museum opened as scheduled on January 22, 1999.
In 2001 the National Museum was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Ontario Association of Architects’ Good Design is Good Business Awards.

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