Boulders, by Snohetta
A stacking of some giant boulders, that is how the first monument on the European continent came into being. The Dolmen were monuments for… well, we have no clue really. Projecting backwards we could say it had something to do with grief or celebration. These stacked boulders were either a way to bury and remember those who passed away, or to celebrate live on earth. Somehow we relate such a powerful architecture to a strong emotion. The Dolmen weren’t a place to picknick.
Thinking of the ‘Edifice Complex’ the Dolmen could just as well have functioned as a symbol for the might of ancient kings. Experiments to build a Dolmen with the tools our ancestors had, proved so difficult it is hard to believe these structures would have been build in a democratic society. You need a massive crowd and a rigid organization, you need someone in charge.
In Saudi Arabia the state-owned company Aramco Oil has selected the Norwegian firm Snohetta as the architect for the ‘King Abdulaziz Center of Knowledge and Culture’. A mix of archive, museum, exhibition hall, library, auditorium and cinema. All together it constitutes a building of 45.000 square meters. That’s the cultural program of a small city.
The site is something of a mystery. The press release by Snohetta mentions a city called ‘Dhahran’. When looking for this city on Google Maps though, all I found was a village in the middle of the desert. That can’t be right.
I doubt it. But that idea could just as well be misinformed by an old-fashioned love for the classical city. The Taj Mahal is located in the middle of nowhere too. The Sydney Opera House or the Eiffel Tower not however.
The element that makes the design by Snohetta tick is the small, elevated ‘boulder’ that looks like it is squeezed between two bigger ‘boulders’ and is thereby lifted from the ground. It is an element I have never seen before on the scale of a building. It’s an innovation.
The balancing act requires an extreme lobotomy, a fierce separation between interior and exterior. It provides probably also an answer to the harsh climate in southern Saudi Arabia.
Although Snohetta does not explicitly appoints an iconography for the design, I find it hard to think of the building in other terms than a couple of boulders. The metal finish of the building underlines that idea: it looks like the boulders have been polished into these forms by the flow of a river.