Three critical transformations drive the architectural renewal of the Dar Al-Uloum Library. First, societal trends throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are moving towards the liberalization of segregation between genders. This creates a need for an integrated library that is spatially fluid, open and transparent, but also respectful and safe; where all users are comfortable and have multiple options for individual and collective study and reflection. Second, changing environmental and economic dynamics require that new additions to the built environment anticipate changes in climate and resource availability. The new library must take full advantage of the desert’s environment and material palette to be resource efficient. Finally, as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia evolves and new economies and industries flourish, the library must be a place where citizens can educate themselves to participate in the next wave of technological and informational innovation.

Our library begins by acknowledging it’s predecessor and setting off in a new direction. Using the existing structural skeleton as an armature and the existing floor plates as datums, we expand outward with a new volume that is rotated to align with the cardinal compass points. This provides a new relationship to the neighboring mosque and creating efficiencies for our environmental strategies, detailed below.

Next we overlay an organizing pattern that establishes solid and void relationships within the library, creating a unique dynamic of transparency and opacity, connection and separation. This pattern is driven by several inputs. Solar chimney towers on the roof project down into the floors below, defining the boundaries of library functions and the location of openings between levels. Rather than a conventional hierarchy of spaces, the interior of the new library is a playful weave of volumes, surfaces and openings that allows for passive visual - and in some places acoustic- connection across boundaries, creating a sense of solidarity and safety where users can work in studious isolation or collective creation. This pattern functions to democratize the space, allowing what urbanist Jane Jacobs called an “eyes on the street” effect, where aggregations of users create their own safety.

The pattern of solid to void relationships established by the solar chimney towers on the interior are also legible on the exterior. As the gently scalloped rammed-earth walls rise, solar chimneys abutting the envelope are revealed. The resulting geometry is evocative of ageless settlement-building techniques found throughout the Arabian Peninsula and Levant, but deployed in a completely new way.

The new library anticipates a future of total gender integration, but acknowledges that the process is just starting. To phase in integration, the design calls for limited areas of exclusive use by women, but these are part of the overall pattern language and thus easily transformable into shared spaces in the near future. Areas with this designation include spaces that share some visual connection with the rest of the library, but can function autonomously.

The new library combines a system of solar chimneys with a ground source heat sink to substantially reduce the load on the mechanical cooling system. While the solar chimneys are a legible component of the overall design, the ground source heat sink sits discretely below the surface of the gardens to the west north west of the main building. Air is drawn into the system through inlets distributed throughout the garden that capture the prevailing northwest breezes and are augmented by fans. The air passes through serpentine ducts buried at an optimal level beneath the garden surface to capture the cooling effect of the packed earth. This pre-cooled air passes through the reduced-size mechanical cooling system from where it is drawn into the main body of the library where the stack effect of the solar chimneys augments the mechanical flow. This heat sink and solar chimney system minimizes the footprint and expenses associated with running mechanical equipment.

This project proposal was developed in collaboration with Craig Cook of Archotus.