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Competition: Dar Al-Uloum Library, Saudi Arabia

An open international contest has been launched to regenerate the Dar Al-Uloum Public Library in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia (Deadline: 15 April)

Open to registered architects globally, the anonymous competition seeks ‘technically and economically feasible’ proposals to radically upgrade the 1970s library and to improve overall connectivity within the surrounding Abdulrahman Al Sudairy Cultural Centre, which occupies a prominent city centre site on Sakaka’s main thoroughfare.

The project aims to enhance the building’s energy efficiency and comfort while also significantly improving its community, educational and archival facilities. Proposals will be expected to renovate and rehabilitate the landmark Al Jouf region structure and incorporate existing elements into any new build.

Dar Al-Uloum Public Library in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia

Dar Al-Uloum Public Library in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia

Dar Al-Uloum Public Library in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia

According to the brief: ‘Like so many institutions of intellectual and cultural value, such as publishing houses, newspaper companies, and universities, the library finds itself on a precipice at the dawn of a digital era. As digital technology proliferates the means with which people access and share information, libraries no longer attract visitors solely through the accumulation of books. Libraries are expanding their role to increasingly function as community and/or cultural centres.

‘Accordingly, the Dar Al-Uloum Initiative aims to rethink the library’s functions and transform the interior of Dar Al-Uloum from a storage space for books, to a more open and flexible social space. Dar Al-Uloum aspires to become a pit stop for cultural flow and activity, where people can gain access diverse activities such as lectures, conferences, meetings, reading clubs, art exhibits, workshops, film festivals and workspaces.’

The predominantly agricultural Al Jouf region is in the north of Saudi Arabia, bordering Jordan, and its capital city Sakaka is home to around 243,000 people. In 2005 a new university was created outside the city as part of a bid to boost regeneration within the country’s northern region.

The 4,500m² Dar Al-Uloum library was constructed in the late 1970s as part of a wider city-centre cultural complex, which today hosts the Al Rahmaniyah Mosque, Al Rahmaniah Primary and Secondary Schools and Al Nusl Hotel.

Dar Al-Uloum Public Library in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia

Dar Al-Uloum Public Library in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia

Dar Al-Uloum Public Library in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia

The latest project aims to upgrade the library – currently split into male and female only spaces – so it can flexibly respond to both technological and cultural changes expected over the coming decades.

Proposals will be expected to increase the amount of shared male and female spaces within the building to reflect changing attitudes in wider Saudi society in favour of more inclusive public areas.

The competition language is English and submissions should include eight A0-sized boards featuring plans, sections, elevations and renders along with a 1,000-word description.

The overall winner will receive a USD $50,000 prize and be invited to enter into a design contract to deliver the scheme. A second prize of $37,500 and third prize of $25,000 will also be awarded.

How to apply


The registration deadline is 15 April and submissions must be completed by 30 May.

Contact details

Abdulrahman Al Sudairy Cultural Centre
Riyadh 11614
P.O.Box 94781
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Tel: 011 281 7094
Fax: 011 281 1357

Visit the competition website for more information

FUTURE OF THE LIBRARY from Khalid Al-Sudairy on Vimeo.

Q&A with Jawaher Al Sudairy

The project lead for the Dar Al-Uloum Initiative at the Abdulrahman Al Sudairy Cultural Centre discusses her ambitions for the contest

Jawaher Al Sudairy

Jawaher Al Sudairy

Jawaher Al Sudairy

Why are your holding a contest to redevelop the Al Jouf Public Library?

The Dar Al-Uloum Library was the first initiative carried out by the Abdulrahman Al Sudairy Cultural Center (AACC) and continues to house its headquarters. The first library was established in 1963, and the current building was completed in the late 1970s. As the library approaches its 50th anniversary, AACC decided to renovate the building and update its design and programming. However, considering the universal proliferation of digital technology, which is changing the way people access information and services provided by libraries and other institutions of cultural value (universities, newspapers, publishing houses), we realised that the subject matter of this project required further study. This is all the more pertinent as most libraries in the country and elsewhere are underused, and may benefit from an intervention that rethinks their design and function. Hence, we decided that this was not simply a renovation project; rather it belonged under AACC’s research and cultural engagement initiatives.

And so we developed a collaboration with faculty at MIT as well as local universities including Alfaisal University, Dar Alhekma and University of Imam Abdulrahman Al Faisal, to study library design and local architecture together. The output of this research contributed towards a design brief that sets the goals for the architecture competition. We believe that the competition will offer a channel for collecting ideas and diverse visions for the library from around the world, and provide an opportunity for greater engagement of talent on the question at hand, and architecture design in general. We hope that this will allow us to select the best design for Dar Al-Uloum, as well as publish all the work that has been developed by competing architects as part of this research. Ultimately, AACC aspires to influence thinking on architecture, both in terms of design and process, and inspires similar efforts locally and regionally.

What is your vision for the new library?

Our aspirations for the future Dar Al-Uloum library, first and foremost, is to maintain its role in the community and remain responsive to local needs. We recognise the importance of providing quality public space for the Al Jouf community to work, study, meet and access information, technology and cultural events. Hence, the facilities in the building need to be upgraded to better serve this purpose. We also hope that the new design will replace the current rigid division of internal spaces with a more flexible design to allow for greater cultural flow and fluidity and accommodate different and evolving functions. We also hope that we can create stronger connections between Dar Al-Uloum and surrounding areas including the park, mosque and schools. This we believe will make the building more inviting, introduce greater access and walkability, and generally better integrate the library into the city it serves.

Our second goal is to ensure sustainable design and incorporation of architectural techniques that are suitable for the local environment. AACC has a legacy of contributing to the built environment of the cities it serves, namely Al Jouf and Al Ghat. Since its inception, AACC has produced two libraries, a school, a mosque, and a hotel. It has also restored the old Melhem House in Al Ghat. Across all built structures, it has sought to preserve and integrate indigenous architectural elements or modern green technologies that ensure efficient use of energy and resources. Al Rahmaniyah Mosque in Al Jouf incorporates cooling towers in its design to create natural ventilation, a feature that is indigenous to the region. Another example is the Rahmaniyah Library in Al Ghat, which relies entirely on local materials in its construction. Hence, the proposed design for the library should offer suggestions on innovative ways for designing an environmentally conscious building.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The competition is open to all firms and practising architects, and we encourage small practices to participate. We hope that through this project, the architect who wins will become a partner with us in designing an award-winning structure and establish Dar Al-Uloum as a case study for library design in Saudi and elsewhere. Shortlisted designs we received will be exhibited and published by AACC, with the objective of sharing the different explorations and designs developed by participating architects in a larger discussion on the future of architecture.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

This is not the first architecture initiative by AACC, however, it is definitely our first competition. Our aspiration is to develop the Dar Al-Uloum project into an ongoing program that focuses on the engagement and promotion of architectural research and practice. As this project is still ongoing, we still have not moved on to planning our next opportunity.

Are there any other similar library upgrade projects you have been impressed by?

When we started this project, our first exercise was to look at libraries locally and internationally to learn from their design. The library that stood out for us was the King Fahad National Library in Riyadh, which we believe has created a new chapter in Saudi Arabia for architecture design and adaptive reuse. Completed in 2013, the Gerber Architekten team developed a cube structure around the original library which dates back to 1986. The new structure succeeds in creating an inviting, light-filled and fluid space, while creatively preserving and integrating the old structure into the internal space. This library offered a great point of reference for our aspirations for Dar Al-Uloum.