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King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture by Snøhetta

Oriel Prizeman examines six recent libraries in the first of a new quarterly series on typology

Like the National Library of China, Snøhetta’s enormous scheme also uses separate elements to represent links between past, present and future. A cluster, inspired by striped pebbles, houses an auditorium, cinema, museum, children’s ‘discovery zone’, multifunction hall and lifelong learning space. The combination of programmes is not new; what is innovative, beyond the beguiling forms themselves, will be their life in such a social and environmental context.

The glistening knot is a trophy in a desert whose subterranean fruits have literally fuelled the global economy of the 20th century. The shiny detail of an eternal pipeline covers its surface, revealed on approach and animated by the movement of the sun, to inspire awe. The building deflects rather than cherishes light. How the interstices of the skin will weather, just as how free navigation of such interior spaces may happen, has yet to be understood. The scheme’s technical ambition together with a programme that seeks to make connections should be worthy of marvel.

Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia, 2012: 45,000m2 / US$300 million (£190 million)

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