Desert X AlUla Visitor Centre

Desert X AlUla Visitor Centre

Location
Al Ula Saudi Arabia | View Map
Project Year
2020
Category
Visitor Center
Colin Robertson
Product Spec Sheet

ElementBrandProduct Name
Lighting iGuzzini
ManufacturersCORIAN® Design
ManufacturersIKEA
ManufacturersGerflor
ManufacturersJotun

Product Spec Sheet
Lighting
Manufacturers
Manufacturers
by IKEA
Manufacturers
by Gerflor
Manufacturers
by Jotun

Desert X AlUla Visitor Centre

KWY.studio as Designer

Some of the most prevalent structures found everywhere around Al Ula are walled date plantations, usually rectangular in shape with large, centrally aligned gates. With palm tree crowns peaking above the sand coloured walls, we can imagine the refreshing shade within, a place where one could rest from the surrounding arid desert. Not far from Al Ula is Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site for its rock-cut monumental tombs. The most significant of these are decorated in an eclectic weave of architectural styles in precisely cut sandstone columns, arches and cornices: fine examples of delicate design and incredible craftsmanship. Interior space is usually a clear, carved void defined by the mass of cut stone – and by Meda’in Saleh’s siq there is an intriguing traditional dining hall lined by three benches for holding annual banquets.

photo_credit Colin Robertson
Colin Robertson
photo_credit Colin Robertson
Colin Robertson

The Visitor Centre is a simple square building, carefully isolated at the entrance of the Hidden Canyon welcoming visitors for the first Desert X Al Ula exhibition: it offers basic amenities such as an information centre and a café as well as a generously shaded courtyard and a viewing deck outside. It is a place to rest and find shelter in the open desert, while its courtyard frames views into the sky and the magnificent landscape. The few, precisely located windows create various focal points up and down the canyon and increase the contrast between the domestic and the unlimited: an expression of our scale and our relationship with nature.

photo_credit Colin Robertson
Colin Robertson
photo_credit Colin Robertson
Colin Robertson

The circular roof opening creates a particular atmosphere - a perfect shape framing the rocks and the sky. The two entrances into the courtyard are viewing axis extended by the transparent doors into the information centre and the café: the opposing windows in each of those spaces giving a framed view back into the desert. The moment one enters the apparently enclosed courtyard is the very moment when one sees through the building – while it’s scale and depth is made ambiguous, there is an immediate spatial and functional clarity.

photo_credit Colin Robertson
Colin Robertson
photo_credit Colin Robertson
Colin Robertson

The floorplan is symmetric and nondirectional with each of the two main public spaces accessed from the centre of each side of the courtyard; facilities such as restrooms, staff and storage are located in the corner diagonal to the courtyard. The metric of the building is strict and reoccurring in all dimensions of its spaces and openings: its structural grid is simple, and the uniformly dimensioned spaces allow for the reorganising of the structure for a future change of use.

photo_credit Colin Robertson
Colin Robertson
photo_credit Colin Robertson
Colin Robertson

Desert X Al Ula Visitor Centre is a modest structure, designed and rapidly built with mostly local materials, drawing from two local references: an archetypal walled garden, expressed in the ruled symmetrical geometry and enclosed appearance, and constructive clarity, with spaces appearing to be carved from a solid mass through simple subtractive operations. The Visitor Centre is open: visitors to the landscape and the art will complete the experience.

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