Following an international one-year competition, Henning Larsen and Omrania Associates have been named the winners of the masterplan for an urban park in Riyadh, King Salman Park. The 13.3 million square meter park, which is part of the larger Saudi Vision 2030 to create a social and sustainable future for the country, will be a transformative force for not just the city but its citizens and the nation, introducing free and public outdoor space to a city and country that has previously eschewed both.
“Until one year ago, there was not even a cinema in the city,” says Henning Larsen Design Director Simon Ingvartsen. ”This project is all about transforming Riyadh into a more livable city. The park, filled with museums, theatres, art academies, and cultural institutions is the spark that usher in a new Riyadh.”
Riyadh’s exponential growth over the past decades has been driven by private development which, coupled with a harsh climate, has resulted in an urban framework that is more cellular than collective. Once located on the fringes, the domestic airfield site of King Salman Park has now been subsumed into the city center but remains a disconnected element. Strong connective links and a fundamental social and cultural infrastructure of new institutions; theatres, museums, art academies, cinemas, schools, and health facilities will ground the development, emphasizing its collective focus. It is a space for the many, not for the few.
“King Salman Park sets the park before the city, creating a people-centered space of a scale previously unseen in Riyadh. The park will be home to cultural and communal spaces that encapsulate the joy of what a city can be. A green spine across the expanse of the park will provide walkability in a city populated by cars,” explains Simon Ingvartsen, Design Director at Henning Larsen.
This spine takes the form of a wadi, a canyon or valley-like indigenous landform that acts as a buffer against the elements and a natural insulator in the extreme climate. Cutting through the center of the park, the wadi forms a protected space for connection and interaction that expands and contracts in tune with the changing seasons. Green fingers stretch out from this central artery to create a porous border between park and city.
To knit the park into its surroundings, the plan for development works simultaneously in two directions, pulling branches of development into the park and stretching channels of the park into the existing city. This interwoven approach is a dramatic inversion of the traditional cellular model: rather than embedding gardens as pockets within the city, the city is instead embedded into the park.
An ‘urban loop’ circumscribes the outer edge, interlinking the sections of the park and standing as a symbol for unity and innovation. The prototypic transit systems installed here, among them driverless cars, establish the future of mobility in the park from day one. The vast range of public program, coupled with intuitive and open access, establishes the park as the hub for Riyadh’s future urban age - one for the many, not for the few.
Henning Larsen has developed the masterplan in collaboration with Omrania Associates for the Riyadh Development Authority and MIC (Mobility in Chain). The first phase of construction will begin in 2019, with a prospective completion date set for 2038.