The Tuwaiq Palace, found in the Diplomatic Quarters, was designed to be a central cultural facility. It was built in 1985 by Atelier Frei Otto of Germany and the structural engineering firm Büro Happold of Great Britain and is the work of Basim al-Shihabi. It serves as a place for governmental functions including official receptions, conferences and cultural festivals.
Originally known as the Diplomatic Club, the Tuwaiq Palace stands on a high limestone plateau dominating the palm-filled Wadi Hannifah below and is designed that from a distance it appears to be a ruined fort surrounded by an encampment. Two key criteria were stipulated for its design: that architects respect the natural setting on the wadi edge and that they honour its desert location by planting no lush greenery within 100 meters of the structure.
The sinuous, 800-metre long terraced wall that wraps the building on its western flank provides numerous views of the desert beyond, and the manmade oasis contained at its centre.
But it’s the huge tent-like structures – made of fibreglass fabric and coated with Teflon – which blend with the wall along the escarpment that captures both the eye and the imagination. These tents met the space requirements for banqueting, dining and reception halls, as well as the sports hall. They are supported at their tops by radial cables attached to the walls by steel anchors, and on the ground by masts hinged to anchor blocks.
One of the tents has three interior levels, making it even more versatile. The tents reflect the kingdom’s mobile, desert-based Bedouin culture; the walls represent its settled oases and cities. The Palace received the 1998 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
The Tuwaiq Palace is, unfortunately, closed to the general public for much of the time, but you can still get superb views of it from one of the many parks to be found in the north western corner of the Diplomatic Quarters.
Entrance: 24 59' 18" N 46 37' 12" E