Ithra, A Home for the World: The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

Phaidon May 2023. 290p. ISBN 9781838663001. $150. ARCH
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, known as Ithra, is a building with the noble purpose of being an agent of change. The project was designed and built in a little over eight years. Abdallah Jum’ah, then CEO of Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, had the idea for a library that would inspire a culture of reading and critical thinking by providing general public access to Saudi and world publications. The project expanded to include a theater, museum, cinema, great hall, and “Idea Lab.” Norwegian firm Snøhetta’s design of wrapped “pebbles” won the architectural competition, and the building was inaugurated in 2017. Steele (emeritus, Univ. of Southern California; Ecological Architecture: Critical History) and Al-Naim (dir., National Built Heritage Ctr., Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal Univ.) offer a detailed account of Aramco’s and Snøhetta’s history, the competition and construction, precedents, its use of stainless-steel pipes and public art, and the architectural program. Many color photographs are included. Careful wording and framing indicate the complexities that surrounded its conception and design in a country that doesn’t have a long history of similar public buildings.
VERDICT Visually documents and details the history of a complex and visionary work of architecture.
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