Peer through the taught forest of rhomboid textile awnings that grace the façade of the King Fahad National Library and you will glimpse a magnificent regeneration scheme that has brought a classic library building firmly into the 21st century. German firm Gerber Architekten has now completed the latest in a spate of schemes in Saudi Arabia with the modernisation of this cultural structure.
The existing building took a cruciform shape topped with a concrete dome; in line with monument preservation principles, Gerber Architekten took the approach to encase these original features in a cuboid shell and reconstruct the dome in glass and steel, enabling users to continue enjoying the architecture they were used to in a more modern environment.
As such, the King Fahad National Library remains as prominent as ever in the community but provides a contemporary architectural image for Riyadh. The building has also been connected to an open square previously designed by Gerber Architekten to become a new urban unit on the axis of Riyadh’s two main roads.
Library users are invited to access the former roof of the institution as it now hosts the ‘reading landscape’, softly lit by skylights with white membranes which gently distribute the light. The book stacks are encased inside the old building and visitors access the public areas of the collections on the third floor of the new building via bridges that branch out from the reading area on the roof of the existing structure.
For women who may wish to remove their burkas, Gerber Architekten has incorporated a female-only area of the library with its own entrance. This section is located in the south wing and is separated from the other areas of the library.
While the pale awnings on the external facades provide a strong aesthetic identity for the institution, their main function is to protect the users and collections of the library from excessive sunshine. Temperatures in Riyadh can reach 50°C however the filigree steel cable structure has a solar penetration level of just 7%.