11 June 2014

King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia

While New Brunswick and New York are trying to figure out where to wedge in a new development or what buildings to replace with highrises, there are a few parts of the world where entire cities are being designed and built in just a a few years - China and the Middle East, most notably.

An interesting example is the King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia, which Nicolai Ouroussoff, the former NY Times Architecture Critic, said "aims to draw a range of Western corporations and their employees, as well as their expertise, to create a social mixing chamber." While this is a slower process, not intended for completion until 2030, KAEC is still being planned and built almost simultaneously. It is an effort to broaden the economic base of Saudi Arabia beyond just an oil economy,creating opportunities for work for the country's incredibly young population.

But what sorts of spaces do you create for such an instant metropolis? Ouroussoff wrote that while there were still fairly limited park spaces, public space was going in a less traditional direction:

The public spaces are closer in spirit to Las Vegas than to Riyadh. An elaborate pedestrian promenade will zigzag through the site, flanked by a narrow reflecting pool intended to conjure a traditional wadi, the mostly dry riverbed that runs through desert valleys. Branches of the “wadi” will connect to small public squares that the architects envision as social meeting places. 
SOM's Keith Besserud recently presented at the Geodesign Summit, showing how they used computer-mediated parametric design to create forms and spaces for the a massive model of the city. Their BlackBox software positioned them to rapidly produce a model that was designed consistent with the rest of the city. It is a new kind of urban design problem.

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