Saudi Review

Designing landmarks

Omrania’s design of the Grand Mosque at the King Abdullah Financial District makes it iconic, with references to the desert rose.

May 2014

CONSTRUCTION work is nearing completion in Riyadh on two prestigious projects that have been designed by Omrania and Associates, a leading architectural and engineering consulting practice in the region.

Each a landmark in its own right, these striking developments include the stately Grand Mosque in King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) and the Hilton Riyadh Hotel and Residence.

Perhaps the word ‘iconic’ best describes the KAFD Grand Mosque, which is strategically positioned in the new financial hub that has become a defining landmark on the horizon of the Saudi capital.

The mosque will serve as the Friday (Jumah) mosque for KAFD and its surrounding communities, offering 1,466 prayer spaces on two levels – 1,162 at the ground level and 304 at the mezzanine level. It is being built at a cost of SR90 million ($24 million) over an area of 10,760 sq m and will provide a gross area of 6,103 sq m.

Omrania and Associates was commissioned by the client Rayadah Investment Company (RIC) to undertake the design of the grand mosque at the district’s attractor package A.07 (RIC – D30).

Rising to a modest height of 20 m above the level of the wadi – the green thoroughfare in the King Abdullah Financial District – the three-level building is viewed predominantly from above – from the surrounding buildings – and, therefore, its roof becomes the very significant fifth elevation. The building is distinguished further by two sculpted 60-m-high minarets.

“The building is a major landmark within the KAFD ‘forest’ of skyscrapers and it emerges at the convergence of three KAFD wadis and, as such, it is also a landmark when viewed from the wadis,” says a spokesman for Omrania.

He says that the concept and inspiration of the form, and the basis for the geometry of the mosque, is the crystalline intersecting plates of the desert rose.

The Hilton Riyadh Hotel ... five star.

The Hilton Riyadh Hotel ... five star.

Elaborating on the design, the spokesman says: “The development of the design required a series of complex parametric arrays to create a simplified and dynamic massing as an abstract representation of the rose. This form and movement in stone extends to the fifth elevation, completing a profile that is exciting when viewed from all angles.

“The ‘skin’ of the building appears to rise up from the ground as an emerging crystal mass bursting from the earth. In the same way, the minarets appear to rise up, piercing the sky. The skin is tessellated stone which emphasises the notion of crystals – consistent with the design principles for the King Abdullah Financial District as whole, and in doing so, complements the Henning Larsen masterplan.”

The building has been meticulously placed on three levels of the urban fabric that encompasses a mid-level plaza.

“This unifying urban feature is unique to the KAFD masterplan and forms a major connection between the wadi elements and the street level at grade. The plaza provides a temporal public realm and amenity to the district and serves as an outdoor prayer extension to the mosque during religious celebration,” says the spokesman.

He continues: “Internally, the dynamic movement is reflected in a faceted lining which stays true to the external form and this delicate, yet powerful, form represents the designer’s visual interpretation of a crystal cavern in deference to the desert rose. The interior volume of the mosque rises to 16 m and is brought to life by filtered light through slotted, crystalline windows of varying composition.”

Triangular slotted windows on the vertical sides of the roof illuminate the ceiling and create a sense of flotation and lightness to the planes of the ceiling. This is further complemented with shard-like features such as the triangular, coloured glass muqarnas – an interpretation of a traditional decorative corbel that is ubiquitous in traditional Islamic architecture.

Other unique features include the triangular side windows, which contain multilayered abstract Arabic scripts, to filter light into the main hall during the day and to provide a glowing Islamic pattern to the wadis of the KAFD at night. Triangular ‘floating’ sound and light baffles appear to hover above the faithful, adding to the ‘lightness’ and spirituality of the space.

According to the spokesman, a major challenge of the design was to develop a geometry that could support a column-free internal environment, where all the loads are transferred through the structural skin that also supports a “flying”, suspended mezzanine by means of hanging supports.

An innovative technique is employed to reduce energy consumption during the week while optimising space so that the mosque can accommodate 1,466 worshippers for Friday prayers.

The spokesman explains: “A prayer hall of the mosque located on the mezzanine level, which can accommodate fewer people, is used for daily prayers and cooling is applied here locally, instead of cooling the whole space, thereby reducing energy consumption.

“During Friday prayers, however, women occupy the whole of the mezzanine area and men the whole of the ground floor. To allow this, the entrance to the men’s daily prayer hall transforms into a discreet set of entrances for women.”



Omrania and Associates is also gearing up to mark the completion later this year of the five-star Hilton Riyadh Hotel and Residence within the Granada District of Riyadh.

Granada Office Park ... recently completed.

Granada Office Park ... recently completed.

The project features a 20-storey hotel with 539 keys and a 14-storey block comprising 443 serviced/furnished apartments. It will also have all-day and specialty restaurants with fully-integrated outdoor seating; a wedding hall to accommodate up to 2,000 people; a business centre and banqueting areas; luxury recreational areas including health clubs, a men’s spa and swimming pools.

Other features include state-of-the-art, back-of-house facilities comprising kitchen facilities, a butcher’s shop and bakery and pastry facilities; underground parking for up to 1,238 vehicles; and extensive landscaping.

Omrania was assigned the design services contract by the client, the General Organisation of Social Insurance (Gosi) and completed the design process in April of 2011.

This project is expected to complement and service the existing Granada Mall along the south side of the site and also the recently-completed Granada Office Park along the north edge of the site – with an elevated skywalk connecting all three developments.

“The design process was a highly collaborative effort between North America/Europe-based and a Middle East-based design team through all phases of the work,” says the spokesman.



Meanwhile, Granada Office Park, another key project designed by Omrania and Associates has recently seen completion. Strategically located in northwest Riyadh within a secure landscaped environment, the project is expected to attract major business organisations, thanks to the easy access to the city centre, King Khalid International Airport and other population centres in the region.

Outlining the practice’s scope of works on the project, the spokesman says Omrania was commissioned to prepare the site masterplan design and construction documentation and to carry out construction supervision. The design stage was completed in 2007.

The development comprises a combination of six high-rise buildings – up to 20 storeys high – and four medium-rise buildings – up to seven storeys – as well as eight two-storey townhouse-type residential buildings. A business centre is included as part of the office development.

The high-rise and medium-rise office buildings are arranged on either side of a central basement parking structure with pedestrian access provided from the parking area to each building at the first basement level. A total of 4,005 parking spaces have been provided primarily within the four-level basement parking structure as well as surfacing parking areas adjacent to all office buildings.

Natural light is provided to the basement levels through terraced landscaped areas between the high-rise buildings on the south side of the basement and through open wells between the circular access ramps at the east and west ends of the basement.

Keeping in mind the objective of providing a landscaped setting, the building footprint covers just about 15 per cent of the total project site area, with the remaining 85 per cent comprising hard and soft landscaping. The total built-up area of the complex excluding the parking basement is 155,436 sq m.

Controlled entrance/egress driveways at three locations provide access to an internal ring road, which links the main entrances at ground level of all high- and medium-rise office buildings.

The design has gained recognition from the International Property Awards, receiving the Architecture Award (Office) Arabia 2010; and Best Office Development Saudi Arabia 2010.



Omrania and Associates is also involved in other projects in the King Abdullah Financial District including the 385-m-high CMA (Capital Markets Authority) Tower, set to be the tallest building in Riyadh; the King Abdullah International Gardens, which broke ground in Riyadh in March; as well as several mega housing programmes planned in the Western Province as part of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious housing plan.

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