The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture also called Ithra in Arabic, or مركز الملك عبد العزيز الثقافي العالمي), was inaugurated by King Salman bin Abdulaziz on 1 December 2017. The Arabic Culture Tower designed by Norwegian architects has been listed in Time magazine as the world’s top 100 places to visit.
In 2008, Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta won the competition to design a massive cultural center for the world’s largest oil company Saudi Aramco. The building was to be erected in Saudi Arabia’s oil capital Dharan on the occasion of the oil company’s 75th anniversary in 2011.
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“Through promoting knowledge, inspiring creativity, and encouraging innovation, we can unleash the most important energy source there is: human potential,” wrote Aramco in its project description back then.
This was an evolution of a far-reaching earlier vision. When the original concession agreement between Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil Company of California was signed on May 20, 1933, King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa‘ud insisted on including a clause directing the company to provide opportunities for Saudi citizens.
80 thousand square meters building
Today, the cultural center Ithra, an 80 thousand square meters building and the surrounding 220,000 square meter Knowledge Park, provides for a wide range of activities serving the local population and becoming a cultural landmark on a regional, national, and global horizon. The building is characterized with integrity and comprehensiveness and contains diverse cultural facilities, including an auditorium, cinema, library, exhibition hall, museum, and archive. It has a unique design that combines between the center’s mission and the external shape.
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The design focuses on the geological nature of the Kingdom, using an assortment of different-sized “rocks”, which symbolize diversity. These rocks lean on one another to illustrate solidarity, and show that the various disciplines explored in the building all depend on one another. The historical factor is also considered in the internal design of the building. Thus, the underground floors are allocated to present the past, the ground floor is for the present and the topmost Knowledge Tower is allocated for the future.
Wide range of events
The auditorium will seat 930 visitors and will provide for a wide range of events ranging from opera, symphony concerts, musicals, speeches etc. Together with the smaller cinema, this will be an unrivalled venue for the performing arts in the Kingdom.
The museum exhibits international and local exhibitions that shed the line on the developing and modern art movement and the rich historical roots in Saudi Arabia.
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The library will become a center for learning, containing some 200 000 books on open access, and catering for all ages and categories of users.
The great exhibition hall will accommodate large scale travelling exhibitions, as well as providing the setting for social events, banquets, and conferences. The museum and archive facilities connect the vibrant cultural life of the center to the past and to the very roots of the society from which this center is conceived.
iThra’ is the Arabic word for ‘enrichment’ and the culture tower promises a continuous journey of enrichment, using science, innovation, arts and culture to inspire creativity and a love of learning, helping to transform Saudi Arabia into a knowledge economy.
Arabic Culture Tower Designed BY Norwegian Architects
“Although Aramco was nationalized in the 1980s, it is still a global company with a global culture. With this project, it will build cultural relations – with the country’s first public theater / library and cinema,” said architect Astrid Renata van Veen in Snøhetta in 2011.
Diversity and unity
“This design takes the form of a complex composition, consisting of a number of individual and discrete components. Balance and harmony are created through interdependence. Each component is fashioned as a unique and tailor-made entity, conforming to and expressive of its own individual needs and requirements,” says the architects.
Ithra is located in the same place of which the first Saudi discovered oilfield. The center has been listed in Time magazine as the world’s top 100 places to visit.
Arabic Culture Tower Designed BY Norwegian Architects, written by Tor Kjolberg