The King Fahad National Library is one of the most important cultural buildings in Saudi Arabia and also one of the most significant urban development and cultural projects in the capital, Riyadh.

The existing cruciform structure is integrated as a building within a building

The symbolic cuboid shape of the new building surrounds the existing structure on all sides, presenting the National Library as a new architectural image in the Riyadh cityscape without abandoning the old building, which now operates as an internal stack and the centre of knowledge within the library. The new square building is covered by a filigree textile facade, following traditional Middle Eastern architectural patterns and linking them with state-of-the-art technology.

The existing cruciform structure is integrated as a building within a building; its dome, originally in concrete, has been reconstructed in steel and glass, and continues to be a cultural symbol of the library. The entire former roof of the existing building, which occupies an extensive area, now provides a reading landscape flooded with light and offers a special atmosphere that encourages the exchange of knowledge. Inside, as if hidden in a treasure chest, are the book stacks.

Visitors enter the open-access sections on the third floor of the new building via bridges from the reading area. Everything is covered by a new roof, punctuated by skylights. The main entrance hall is on the ground floor, which also houses exhibition areas, a restaurant and a bookshop. A library area for women only is provided on the first floor of the new south wing; this space is separated from the other building areas, and is also accessed separately.

The key element of the facade, a cladding made up of lozenge-shaped textile awnings, was developed especially for the new building. White membranes, supported by a three-dimensional, tensile-stressed steel cable structure, act as sunshades and reinterpret the Arabian tent structure tradition in a modern, technological way. This meeting of old and new creates a uniform and dignified overall architectural appearance with a unique look. At night, the facade gives out a soft white light and becomes the city’s cultural lighthouse.

One particular challenge for the facade was the enormous temperature differences in Saudi Arabia. In summer, the steel ropes can heat up to 80 degrees Celsius and will expand. In winter, the material can shrink during sub-zero temperatures at night. These effects had to be calculated to optimise the tension of the steel wires. The facade was combined with a ventilation and cooling system consisting of layered ventilation and floor cooling. In this way, thermal comfort was increased and energy consumption significantly reduced by using special methods and technologies for the first time in the Arab world.