Guesthouse of the Arriyadh Development Authority Architectural pearl in the desert

Naturally, when we are working on comprehensive signage and information systems, we pay a visit to the locations in question. One special experience came during our work on a guidance system for the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This was because the client, the Arriyadh Development Authority, offered foreign project workers and visitors accommodation with an extraordinary history and atmosphere: Tuwaiq Palace. It was built between 1981 and 1985 in a joint venture between Frei Otto, BuroHappold and Omrania & Associates and was originally conceived as a kind of diplomatic club with leisure facilities for embassy employees and their guests from all over the world. The complex therefore features various social rooms, bars, lobbies and wings containing guest rooms, as well as amenities such as tennis, swimming, sauna and gym facilities.

The organic design of the complex means that it appears to grow out of the surrounding desert landscape; the building, clad in sand-colored limestone, shields the lush vegetation of the large inner courtyard like a defensive wall. Landscape architect Richard Bödeker designed the green space with the recurring theme of a gradual transition from desert to garden. The distinctive tent structures by Frei Otto nestle against the building to act as roofs and shield against the sun, providing an oasis-like atmosphere with a touch of a Bedouin camp. Tuwaiq Palace is not only a hospitable oasis in the desert, but also an island of Western lifestyles in a strictly Islamic country, with its diverse complement of expats from all around the globe living there while working on local projects. Life there is not unlike a stay in a very comfortable youth hostel – aside from the odd occasions when the complex is booked by local wedding parties and the sounds of Arabic music waft through the night. This work by Frei Otto, little known in Germany, is a revelation and a curiosity – a unique architectural pearl in the desert sands.

picture credits:
unit-design - Bernd Hilpert
OHO joint venture
Werkarchiv Frei Otto