The Cloud of the Wisdom

The traditional Arab Architecture has found a new icon in Saudi Arabia ... a building inside another!.

The National Library of King Fahd
The National Library of King Fahd

Hi, I was completely desperate, nervous and uneasy, I know that you are not used to seeing me in this permanent tension, but you should not be surprised, after all, you know not my hobby to architecture. My public image has never required to show this special sensitivity, until now, when I, Rodolfo, I decided to build the best building that you have ever known. My nervousness has already found a cure, but if you want to know what caused my condition you will have to continue reading (house brand).

I will tell you bluntly: I am not, and I pretend not to be a William Shakespeare, nor much less to write the famous tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, on the contrary, I would like that when you read me, you do not remember neither my surname (though is very popular), and I would like that you give value to the materials and construction systems that I expose here, like that of today, I was desperate and uneasy for a decade by him. I’ve spoken before rehabilitated libraries but I had never spoken of hidden library, that have brought me along the path of bitterness and which I call: The Cloud of the Wisdom.

The National Library of King Fahd, interior
The National Library of King Fahd, interior

It was the year 2002 when the architecture firm Gerber Architekten won a competition in Saudi Arabia. It was a very special competition for several reasons, one of them that the petitioner chose by different architecture firms to compete for the project, another reason is the petitioner, the High Commission for the development of Riyadh, and the third (most attractive) was the nature of the project: the rehabilitation of the old National Library of King Fahd whose building (from the 1980s) was obsolete.

Located in the heart of the city’s Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia has become in the new icon of the district, and it is no wonder that with its unique and eye-catching design has already received one of the most prestigious awards of the architecture: the international architectural design award. Basically the new building has encapsulated the old building, with cruciform shape and concrete dome, in the new exterior construction prioritize two materials: the glass and the textile. The traditional symbolism of Middle East which is designed the façade with the textile membrane, attached to the simplicity and effectiveness of its proposal, had won to the jury (to me too, I am not going to cheat).

The National Library of King Fahd
The National Library of King Fahd, exterior

The building is distributed over 68,000 square meters, boasts with 2.4 million of books, 620 parkings and a park next to him (also designed by our friends of Gerber) of 20,000 square meters, the construction cost 330 million of SAR (Saudi Arabian currency, are almost 79 million €). It has on the ground floor an exhibition hall, a library and a restaurant (not what you expect huh?); they have transformed the ancient cover in a reading room, and you can access, via several gateways, to the areas of open access that are located in the upper part of the new building.

I had a tremendous desire to see the new building, it was completed in November of 2013, but by a promise that I made to a very good friendship, I couldn’t do the first visit without her company and, since we not adapted our agenda, we delay a year. You would tell me that a year is not enough to experience so much discomfort, but it is I wanted to see the completed building from the same ruling of the contest: in 2002, the standby compass made than my nerves were put to the test (hence the desperation with which I began this article), fortunately I invested my time in finding out more about the Porsche in Russia, a market that must be taken into account.

The National Library of King Fahd, interior

The first time I saw the building, I couldn’t help but do a double comparison, on the one hand I compared it with a cloud, by its white and almost airy form, that gives a touch ephemeral, and on the other hand I compared it with the cloud of a computer server, due to having so many books inside well could resemble a physical server, a comparison very intelligent, if you allow the observation.

The floor of the building has form of parallelepiped, and the textile network made up of rhomboids running in the four facades, unifying the views in any situation from which you can observe. These membranes act as umbrellas, intercepting the harmful action of the heat, which can reach 50 ° C in these latitudes (almost nothing), but the awnings are not set at whim: they were made complex computer calculations taking into account the solar incidence, so that its location would be the most effective.

Map of the Library. Photo:
Map of the Library. Photo:

The external network is made of cantilevers of metal between plants and it is joined by stainless steel tensioning cables. Following a definite form, the cables are intercepted on four corners by parallel lines front and rear. The horizontal bars are attached to the building in these interceptions perpendiculars, and are born of these the awnings that forming the solar protection, the existence of two lines of steel turnbuckles allow that the awnings may be distributed back and forward, even at a given time, could be another form. These bars have a dual mission: serve as support for the textile fabric and hide the next-generation of led lights that will delight during the nights, when their changing colors illuminate the environment. The steel turnbuckles only receiving tensile loads, this makes it of vitally important a periodic review of them and their connecting elements: a fissure will entail a dramatic break, without prior notice.

The facade also combines the ventilation with the cooling by means of a system never used in Saudi Arabia, which increases the thermal comfort and reduces the consumption of electric power, is no joke cool a big space. The courtyards, intervening decisively, providing natural light and fresh air, have become spaces of orientation and distribution of the place.

The outer wall is made of metallic overhangs between floors which are joined by stainless steel tension cables
The outer wall is made of metallic overhangs between floors which are joined by stainless steel tension cables

A curious detail is that the gateway of the old library was in front of the main road and the new gateway is in front to new square, in the posterior region; this forced to break part of the old building and forced to a internal reorganization. As I explained before, there was a reinforced concrete Dome, it was also another victim of the new construction, since it was demolished to construct a new steel and glass. Finally, the Sefar Company was commissioned to cover the new roof with 15,000 square meters of fabric, covering the enormous surface in such a way that let the light through, for it had to rely on new metal pillars that help their support.  

In the library I got my revenge of my companion for the caused delay: I won her several times at chess. Bye bye.


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