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Starchitecture Comes to Saudi Arabia
"Snøhetta’s challenge was to incorporate, under one roof, a series of institutions that in most cities would occupy landmark structures in their own right. Ithra has all the ambiguity of a presidential library, many of the functions of a college campus, and possibly no real precedent."
"Any exhilaration the project inspires must be tempered by the knowledge that Saudi Arabia’s social strictures still hang over the country like a veil. The center’s niceties—gift shops, screening rooms, and the promise of a knowledge-based economy—stand in sharp contrast to the kingdom’s reputation for human rights abuses. Are the center’s stylistic flourishes a celebration or a mea culpa? As with many things in the kingdom these days, it is probably both and neither."
"As impressive as Ithra is, it is still a bauble. As welcoming as Ithra is, it is still a barbed-wire-ringed compound. As cosmopolitan as Ithra is, it is still a tourist attraction in a country that does not admit tourists."