An architecture designed for digital arts in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Diriyah Art Futures, designed by Schiattarella Associati, is the world's first building built from scratch to be dedicated to digital arts, promoting culture and innovation in the Arabian Peninsula.

This article was originally published on Domus 1090.

Diriyah Art Futures in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is the latest addition to the Arabian Peninsula’s system of cultural buildings. Commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, it is part of the country’s Vision 2030 plan and was designed by Rome-based studio Schiattarella Associati, winner of the 2015 international competition. 

Diriyah Art Futures is dedicated to the production and presentation of digital arts. The world’s first brand-new building for this purpose, it contains exhibition spaces, galleries, ateliers, artist residencies, research workshops and a media training centre. Its architecture aims to dialogue with the history and morphology of a precious context. The UNESCO site of At-Turaif is nearby, while the complex’s elongated lot coincides with the footprint of Diriyah’s old walls. An escarpment slopes down from the town to the wadi, a small fertile agricultural depression of the desert plateau. Diriyah Art Futures thus takes the form of “a border building”, in Schiattarella’s words. 

The design offers a contemporary and non-mimetic reinterpretation of traditional Saudi architecture.
Diriyah Art Futures, Schiattarella Associati. @ Schiattarella Associati. Photo Hassan A. Alshatti

The elementary volumes of the irregular silhouette are separated by thin fissures. These are shaded and crossed by natural breezes and also act as paths connecting to the new park. The design suggests an alternative to the neo-vernacular and sculptural neo-International Style prevalent in the region, offering a contemporary and non-mimetic reinterpretation of traditional Saudi architecture. “The design of the void is crucial,” says Schiattarella, “just as it is for the old houses in Riyadh made with introverted courtyards and patios.” Outside, the void is a simple and collected public square, while inside, it is a labyrinthine shared access space to the ateliers, underground but lit by a large skylight.

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