Best 5 buildings in Saudi Arabia

Featuring some of Islam’s holiest sites, Saudi architecture is undoubtedly impressive. But in addition to ornate, centuries-old mosques, the country is home to ultra-modern cultural centers, historic districts built from Red Sea coral limestone and some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

Kingdom Center

One of the tallest buildings in the world, the Kingdom Center tower in Riyadh is an iconic part of the Saudi capital’s skyline. Designed by local architecture firm Omrania and Associates and Ellerbe Becket located in the U.S., the modern multi-purpose building features east and west wings rising to 300 meters in height. The building’s unique curved shape and some of the materials used were carefully planned to keep the building cool. The narrower ends of the building face east and west, where the heat is greatest. Wrapped around the building is a reflective glass wall that is heat resistant to the intense Arabian sun.

Sky Bridge is one of the most famous points and where you will find an stunning views

What about the opening at the top? It also has a purpose. To build higher than the local height restriction of 30 occupied floors, the floors around the inverted arch opening are unoccupied; however, they connect at the top. Here, visitors can explore an elevated glass bridge observation deck for breathtaking views of the city.

Afraid of heights? There’s plenty more to explore inside this modern architectural masterpiece, including a shopping mall, restaurants, a hotel, sports facilities and even a wedding venue. “We have planned several extraordinary weddings, as Kingdom Tower and the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh are the most iconic architectural oasis in Saudi Arabia,” says Dounia Eldorra, wedding specialist at the Four Seasons at Kingdom Center.

Al Balad, Jeddah

The historic district of Al Balad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014, was founded in the 7th century; today, the neighborhood’s preserved architecture tells stories of the city’s past. Here you will find houses built from the 16th century to the early 20th century. One of the reasons these houses are unique is that, unlike other regional skyscrapers that were built with clay, Al Balad’s were built with coral limestone brought from the Red Sea. The impressive woodwork that adorns these structures is another striking feature. In 1869, the Suez Canal was opened and Jeddah benefited from it. Merchants began decorating traditional Al Balad buildings with ornate wooden details around doors and windows and carving highly decorative wooden windows and balconies, known as “rawasheen.”

From the Nassif House to the Al Alawi market, there is much to see in Al Balad. Learn more about this historic neighborhood at

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra)

Ithra resembles a larger-than-life Zen garden. Designed by Norwegian architecture firm Snohetta, the buildings are purposely arranged to symbolize unity. The tallest, known as the Tower of Knowledge, is 18 stories high and represents the future of Saudi Arabia. The first floor pieces of this architectural work represent the present, and the subway ones are the past.

Covered by more than 350 kilometers of stainless steel tubes that were bent and framed over the complex’s six buildings, Ithra is a striking addition to Dhahran’s skyline. In addition to following LEED certification guidelines, the center used highly compressed materials found in Saudi Arabia, including sand, clay and gravel, to ensure that Ithra is fireproof and soundproof.

What’s inside this cultural center, gifted by Saudi Aramco, is equally impressive. “The center is a place where ideas and dreams take shape,” says former Ithra director Ali Al Mutairi. Discover museums, exhibitions, libraries, a theater and concert hall.

Maraya, AlUlA

In the middle of the Saudi desert sits Maraya, which translates as “mirror.” The exterior of the 5,000-square-meter building is covered with 9,740 square meters of mirrors, reflecting the surrounding desert landscapes in AlUla. “AlUla was at the crossroads of cultural exchange for millennia. With Maraya, we are one step further in realizing our vision of recreating a place to dream, a place that inspires and facilitates the exchange of cultures and ideas,” says Phillip Jones, director of marketing and destination management for the AlUla Royal Commission.

Maraya set a Guinness World Record as the largest mirrored building in 2019, yet it is more than an impressive art installation in the desert. It is also a cultural and entertainment center for concerts, immersive theater, interactive exhibitions and other events. Behind the stage, a retractable window of more than 800 square meters opens to reveal the landscapes of AlUla. In August 2020, Maraya was named a winner of the popularly elected Architizer A+ Awards. “Perhaps it’s particularly gratifying to win the popular vote,” Jones says. “Visitors are truly mesmerized by the impact of Maraya and the way it blends in so seamlessly and reflects its surroundings.”

King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, Riyadh

The imaginative and super-efficient King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) may remind you of something you’ve seen in a science fiction movie. Indeed, there’s a lot of science inside this sleek, solar-efficient, LEED Platinum-certified structure. The 70,000-square-foot energy and environmental research campus serves as a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding the most efficient and effective uses of energy.


Sustainability was at the forefront in designing the five campus buildings, which include the Energy Knowledge Center, the Energy Informatics Center, a conference center with an exhibit hall and auditorium, a research library, and a prayer shack. The campus design unites the five buildings as a single space connected by public extensions. KAPSARC is one of the final projects overseen by the eponymous founder of Zaha Hadid Architects, and its honeycomb structure was inspired by natural elements she observed in the desert landscape.

Those crystalline forms serve another, more practical purpose: the buildings were designed around each other in a way that created enclosed, shaded courtyards to protect against the Arabian sun and desert winds. Inside KAPSARC, the strategic architectural design, with offset floor plans that allow people to see the floors above and below, as well as the common spaces, promotes interaction and the exchange of ideas between visitors and researchers.


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