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Unified Real Estate Diplomatic Quarter Mall
By: Raj Patel AIA
Located adjacent to the eastern gate to the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh, Gensler’s design for a new mixed-use development captures the essence of the neighborhood and the spirit of the city. As the world’s largest architecture and design firm, Gensler designs mixed-use districts and retail centers to act as vibrant social hubs that connect people and experiences and breathe new life into cities. Gensler’s designers create next-generation mixed-use and shopping destinations that are amenity- and service-rich, leverage technology, promote culture, and offer recreational activities. Gensler integrates the crafting of places and shared experiences to create new, elevated hybrid spaces that create an authentic sense of community.
Diplomatic Quarter is a vibrant community comprising of all the foreign diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia along with a large residential area and shopping malls. Its distinctive character within the city has emerged under the patronage of King Salam who was governor of Riyadh for more than half a century. He believed blending contemporary design with local cultural features inherits the city’s rich culture and history.
The award-winning concept for the project is inspired by natural strata formations prevalent in the rugged landscape that surrounds Riyadh. Reminiscent of these mystical formations that have been formed by water and wind through time, our design creates six free-standing curvilinear forms that appear to be shaped by the movement of pedestrians, wind, and views flowing into the central pedestrian spine. The openness of the project speaks to the new vitality of the city and the aspirations of its citizens. Unique among design firms, Gensler works with a cross-section of the world’s economy.
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The entertainment cluster houses a variety of programs including Retail, Food & Beverage, Cinema, Bowling, and Office. One level of basement parking connects to the ground plane by escalators and lifts. The ground level is designed as a free-flowing, vibrant courtyard that opens outwards in every direction that invites passive movement of wind and shade from the exterior. Water features, shading elements, hard and soft landscape create an intimate space that hosts naturally shaded outdoor seating areas, event spaces, and community gathering areas.
“A return to and celebration of the pedestrian nature of our urban fabric, the curvilinear forms of the building entice breezes from the northwest for cooling as well as pedestrian movement into the main open central space. This inner courtyard is lined with F+B and highend retail blending the essence of high street shopping, Italian piazzas, and Arab hospitality into a uniquely memorable experience.” – Raj Patel, AIA, Architecture Design Director, Principal
The façades take their cue from the character of Diplomatic Quarter. The influence of Salamani architecture reveals itself in our contemporary design with a refined palate of elements and shapes such as triangles and narrow vertical slits. The exterior cladding comprises natural terracotta panels which are richly colored to match the traditional stone façades of the surrounding neighborhood. The façade surface begins as a relatively flat surface on the façades facing the road but transforms into undulating strata bands in the central courtyard space. This undulation and subtle variety of colors throughout the façade promotes continual visual movement throughout the project.
If the past year has taught us anything, it is how our society and world economy are interconnected. Gensler sharpened our focus with the convergence of the pandemic and our social, governance, and environmental challenges. Today, building owners, developers, and investors are recognising the potential consequences and risks from climate change, as they mobilise to address the negative impacts of the built environment on climate change. Yet these risks can also present an economic opportunity as the marketplace begins to seek out investment in long-term climate action strategies. Because of the rising costs associated with the destructive impact of hotter temperatures, rising seas, and increasingly severe weather, expectations for how buildings perform are shifting.
Sustainability has been the key driver as Gensler has designed a public space for the future. Gensler has returned to basic passive design principles such as building orientation and limiting the amount of fenestration rather than the continual burden of mechanical systems to cool overheated spaces. Integration of green areas and water features such as water fountains, planters for cooling, and occupant comfort is one such example. The buildings have been shaped to draw air thru the development for cooling as well as providing shade to the ground floor areas.
Restaurants have been placed in those locations to allow the use of the outdoor space by protecting it from the direct rays of the sun, designing a central pedestrian plaza (courtyard) embraced and shaded by the surrounding buildings. Utilising local plants such as palm trees and embracing the site’s natural slopes through design and connecting all levels seamlessly to avoid intrusion to the site nature serves as an example of the combination of a well-conceived design and sustainable design thinking that drives this future development to achieve our sustainability aspirations.
The new outdoor mixed-use development challenges the traditional enclosed spaces which are devoid of connecting to the surrounding environment and use extensive energy to cool large atrium spaces. Access to fresh air, energy conservation, connection to nature, and weaving into our urban fabric are some of the key design drivers of the development.
The result of responding to this challenge is a shift towards implementing sustainability measures such as reduction in energy for cooling large volumes of atrium space, a physical connection to our outdoor environment, and connecting open spaces to the surrounding urban fabric of the city to encourage movement. The whole development utilises efficient LED lighting and local stone from Riyadh has been used as the main façade component accounting for 60% of building exterior envelope to promote regional materials and reduce embodied carbon associated with material transportation.
“Working with Gensler has been one of the best, the smoothest and valuable experience we ever have over the past 50 projects build by Unified Real Estate. The continuous efforts leading the project to the best operational and architectural outcome is impressive which done in a squeezed time frame which still meets the original time frame, despite the changes we asked them to do.” – Emran Yousef Abdulgani, Chief Technical Services Officer at Unified Real Estate Development
The project has won the recognition of Retail Project of the Year – Highly Commended at the Architecture Leaders Awards 2021 held in Dubai in March 2021.
Project Name: Unified Real Estate Development Diplomatic Quarter Mall Location: Riyadh, K.S.A. Client: Unified Real Estate Development Architect:Gensler Other Consultants:VERO Design Studio (Landscape) + WSP (Engineers) + Delta Lighting Solutions (Lighting) + Compass (Cost) Materials used for facade & fenestration: The exterior cladding comprises of natural terracotta panels which are richly colored to match the traditional stone facades of the surrounding neighborhood. The façade surface begins as a relatively flat surface on the facades facing the road but transform into undulating strata bands in the central courtyard space. This undulation and subtle variety of colors throughout the façade promotes continual visual movement throughout the project. Commencement Date & Estimated Completion Date: 7 Nov 2020 to estimated completion 2022 Size: 38,000 SM of site area; 75,400 SM of total built-up area
Raj Patel AIA
Architecture Design Director, Principal
Raj Patel leads Gensler’s architecture design studio in the Middle East. His experience across different cultures influences his design approach as he weaves together traditional and modern architecture into contemporary designs, relevant to their cultural and contextual settings. A passionate designer, Raj enjoys collaborating with teams, mentoring young architects, and understanding cultural influences that impact how buildings are used. A perennial figure in the list of Top 40 Most Powerful Architects in the Middle East by Middle East Architect magazine, Raj’s professional thoroughness combined with his creative talent and leadership ability has made him an award-winning architect with a portfolio that includes many esteemed projects. Raj also frequently speaks at conferences and events with an aim to engage in conversations that influence design trends. He is a registered American Architect with a Bachelor of Architecture (Hons) from the University of Cincinnati and a Master of Architecture from Yale University