Winner of an international design competition, the National Museum of Saudi Arabia opened in 1999 to celebrate the centenary of Saudi unification. The primary custodian of the Saudi national heritage and culture, the Museum is a place of learning and discovery, designed to sing out with quiet excitement and inspiration, to kindle pride in the Arab heritage and reverence for Islam.
The Museum’s central design feature is a curved west wall of local limestone that sweeps along Murabba Square and the Palace Garden in a broad welcoming gesture towards Mecca. At sunset, the wall glows with the red of the setting sun, then gradually subsides to welcome the coolness of evening. The visual impact is that of a canyon wall lining a wadi, a reminder of Riyadh’s beginnings as an oasis in the desert.
As an urban design gesture, the curved wall embraces the buildings on the opposite side of the square, including the historic Murabba Palace. All have been inspired by the vernacular Najdi building tradition of simple adobe walls and restrained surface decoration, but the Saudi Arabian National Museum’s contemporary vocabulary of limestone walls and granite detailing sets it apart from its neighbours.
MTA and our collaborators completed the entire project in 30 months, including the building, collection and exhibits. The museum’s success helped to open Saudi Arabia to international travel and was a major factor in UNESCO designating Riyadh as “cultural capital of Arab world.”