The Room placed third in a global competition to design a commercial mall in Saudi Arabia, not only a special moment for the team but another step forward in our ambition to prove that Cambodia's architects and designers can compete on a global stage. The design beat out 70 entrants and marks one of the first times a Cambodian architecture firm has been recognised in an international competition, an achievement that gives us the momentum to keep improving standards in the country, nurturing the next generation of designers and pushing the boundary for what's possible.
Hosted by Al Salimi Real Estate Development company, the competition tasked entrants to create a lively commercial landmark and boulevard named "(S) Squares" in a quiet district of the Saudi Arabian city Al Khobar.
Our design took inspiration from the country's traditional local architecture, which is characterised by cubic volumes in rammed earth, introverted patios and screen walls with rich geometric patterns. We also wanted to recognise and respect the culturally important elements of Saudi architecture, such as privacy and protection from the sun. The structure’s bold visual identity comes from reinterpreting the native desert landscape and its distinctive sand colours, which gives it a sense of belonging with the surroundings.
The structure acts as a contemporary landmark that naturally pulls in the attention of drivers passing by the main road, high-end shops fully visible through the impressive glass facade. This is the extroverted nature of the building. The inside of the building has a more introverted character, as the central plaza is hidden from view from the main road and provides the core of the available activities. The upper volumes interact with the interior rather than exterior, because while they appear fairly enclosed from the outside are in fact fully open to the plaza below. This is intentional, since the surrounding landscape does not provide views worth highlighting, and the eyes of the visitors are instead turned towards the inside.
A line of volumes rotates around a central open element, the plaza. The bridges allow horizontal connections between the upper floors. The commercial activities are located on the lower floors to provide easy access to each shop and to improve the interaction with the outdoor space. All the activities that do not require much interaction with the public are located on the upper floors. The ladies gym requires absolute privacy, while the kids area finds a safer space on the upper floors, away from busy roads.
Saudi Arabia’s harsh desert climate brings attention to the need for environmentally conscious design. While the lower floors require maximum visibility, making the use of glass necessary, on the upper floors, where the exposure to the sunlight is stronger and there are no cantilevers, a second skin will reduce the long-term environmental impact and electricity costs. A ‘‘screen roof’’ on the plaza provides shade to the outdoor space as well as to the shops facing the plaza. Native vegetation and water elements help reduce internal temperatures, creating a micro-climate that forms a haven from the country’s heat and a comfortable space to relax and indulge.
Modern materials such as steel and concrete, aluminum screens and flexible ceramic sheets translate architectural features of the past into a contemporary language, allowing the structure to be absorbed into the landscape. The screens interact with the sunlight on multiple levels and scales, providing shade and privacy during the day and transforming the building into a spectacular and mesmerising lantern at night.