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Starchitecture Comes to Saudi Arabia

Designed by Norwegian firm Snøhetta, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, promises to spread knowledge and promote understanding against the backdrop of the kingdom's dismal record on human rights.
March 30, 2019, 11am PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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Dammam, Saudi Arabia
The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, pictured in May 2018.
Chris worldwide

"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."

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Published on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 in Architect Magazine
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