King Abdulaziz Center for Knowledge and Culture


A building fit for a king -- in this case, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

In competition with some of the world’s greatest architects, Snøhetta has won the competition about designing Saudi Arabia’s new Cultural Center. Saudi Aramco – the world’s largest oil company – is the client.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz set the cornerstone for the Cultural Center which will house a museum, library, theater, cinema and more. The building reflects the history of oil in Saudi Arabia and is different from the country’s architectonic traditions with its abstract and spectacular form.

Along with five other internationally know architect offices, Snøhetta participated in the competition and was chosen in preference to famous names as Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas.

Saudi Arabia’s new Cultural Center


  1. The History of Oil? How about a smoking crater filled with the dead? Pretty building, but really now..

  2. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good, And Who Want To Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too.

  3. There will be a separate room for gay Saudi history. when people go in they just shut the door behind them, arrest them there, maybe administer a flogging. I’ll be so efficient.

  4. that should read “It’ll be.” Personally i’m not the most efficient agent of bigoted flogging.

  5. Saudi Arabia spends huge money every year on culture and international PR. Like the Emirates, they bring in top notch people in every field from around the world and pay them well. Yet somehow they always come off as rubes with too much money, as a nation of Donald Trumps. Spectacular works projects and still no respect.

  6. Can money really buy respect when your religious police stops a fire rescue and lets women burn inside a building because they didn’t have on proper attire?

  7. …Wll, nw w hv cncrt prf why w’r pyng dmn nr $5/gl fr gs. D y kds nw ndrstnd why sy w shld drp t lst *n* nk n th Mddl f tht prtclr st? “Cntr fr Knwldg nd Cltr” my ft btt, spclly whn tht s-clld Kng shld b sng th mny h nd hs PC crns r xtrtng frm th rst f th wrld t fd, clth nd shltr hs ppl, nt spndng t n bldng tht lks lk sm NYC rtst brfd p nd clmd t ws scptr.

    [shks hd n ttr dsgst dspt *lkng* brfd-p NYC rt sclptrs]

  8. OM,

    This is the second time that you’ve made that vile statement. What on earth could you be thinking?

    Our oil prices have nothing to do with supply and everything to do with a government that’s been printing monopoly money. Supply is adequate. Speculation has artificially driven up the price.

  9. @12: Instead of the hundreds of trillions we’d spend on the 1000 year war that followed from dropping a nuclear bomb, how about spending money on become energy independent using renewable energy resources? I know it’s much harder than killing thousands of people at a go, but it might be worth a try.

  10. i wish i could make out what OM said without accidentally summoning a shambler to the material plane.

  11. King Abdullah is a closet reformer. If he acts too precipitously, the Ulema will unseat him. There are dozens, hundreds of male royals to replace him. When you see a morbidly fat person exercising, do you make fun of them? Or do you appreciate that they’re in a process of positive change?

    And speaking of culture, did you know that the first mixed-gender-attended public concert in Saudi Arabia took place a few months ago. Saudi women attended, some sans niqab, in the presence of Western men. Nobody arrested them. Maybe this cultural center will see more events of that kind. Or you could just trash the idea. Because, of course, an absence of public culture is certain to improve the status of women in the Arabian Peninsula.

  12. I’m just pissy because I got around to watching Perseoplis. If I had to live under religious goon squads of any kind, I’d be dead in a week under a pile of their ignorant bodies. What got me really going was the reminder that they couldn’t execute a teenage virgin for being lippy – so they’d marry her and rape her and then hang her.

  13. It’s a very beautiful building. ArchViz is something I’d like to learn how to do. Notice how all the interesting architectural projects are not being built in the US? There is a message in there for the observant.

    I don’t know much about the Saudis but criticizing other cultures is something Americans really shouldn’t do until they get one.

  14. definition of culture: what humans do
    are all cultures equal: sure, why not
    are some cultural practices lesser or worse than others: oh YEAH.

  15. Those are gorgeous images. It’s exciting to see such ambitious projects. This kind of thing makes me feel optimistic. Which might be the point, actually.
    I’m not sure I’m seeing the images correctly, but does this look like the largest windowless building you’ve ever seen, and what are the implications of that?

  16. Oddly, it doesn’t mention where this building is meant to be built. If it’s in Ar-Riyadh, the climate there is almost identical to ours in PS. Windows let in heat. Cave good!

  17. What kind of books are going to be in the library? Saudi culture is immensely hostile to book-publishing. Their literary tradition ended some 1200 years ago.

    Interesting to see them paying so much money for fancy architecture when they have such an abysmal history of destroying other people’s (see what they did to Bosnia in the 1990s).

  18. The Saudis were in Bosnia? Wow! I must really be out of it! Or are you suggesting that all Muslims are the same? Let’s blame the Irish for the holocaust while we’re at it.


    If you’re that concerned with books, try opening one on the history of Islam and the Arab world. You’re spouting the worst sort of uninformed, jingoistic rubbish.

  19. There are basic human needs (not wants) that a culture must try to meet in order to qualify as a good culture. Those needs are food, shelter, safety, sex, and to be left the fuck alone if desired. (No cunning abstractions such as freedom or liberty or dignity need apply.) Cultures that do not try to meet these basic needs can be classified as bad. Any culture that arbitrarily denies them on the basis of sex, ethnicity, or religion, is very bad. So how many good cultures do we know of? How many bad?

  20. I don’t believe traditional islamic cultures treated their mothers,wives,sisters and daughters like the filthy behavioural extremes we see today. It is alien to human nature to be that bestial. I think the perverted islam we see the worst of now is an aberration, an aberration made possible by the west’s conspiracies for cheap oil and by the present cowardice of the muslims who let the extremist scum and morons take over. Just as there is a whole generation of Chinese deeply ashamed by the Cultural Revolution – and just as many Americans are at the stinking mess that eight years of monkey rule has created.

  21. Sorry, but IMHO that is a really (trying to come up with a more interesting word, but failing), ugly building.

  22. Anti, I like space (as in outer), but crashes and bling leave me cold. Feh on the Saudi Arabia cultural center.

  23. Antinous,

    The Saudis WERE in Bosnia after their war, and took over the “reconstruction”, or more accurately the destruction, of some of the most beautiful mosques on earth, remaking them in the pure Saudi style, i.e., plain, white and undecorated. It’s one of the greatest cultural atrocities of all time.

    Since you’re such a great expert on Islam and the Arab world, I would have assumed that you’d know that. I’m surprised. You’re unfamiliar with the difference between Wahhabis and other varieties of Islam?

    Maybe you should open up something or other and have a look at

    Or here: (which is about Kosovo, but the atrocities are the same).

  24. What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.
    Mohandas Gandhi

  25. The Saudi bulldozing of some of the most historically valuable architectural monuments in the western Kosovo market town of Djakovica is merely the latest in a series of iconoclastic activities in the Balkans undertaken in the name of reconstruction assistance by Arab aid organizations. War-damaged historic buildings are not repaired, but rather demolished to make way for what the Arab donors consider to be more proper Islamic structures.

    I first heard of this from Andras Riedlmayer, fine arts librarian at Harvard University. No doubt he’s just another uninformed jingo.

    It seems to me that YOU are the one who is conflating all the varieties of Islam, which to you apparently only means Sauds.

  26. OH MY GOD!
    now saudis are in Kosovo!!
    when did we invade it?
    did we write a “Mission accomplished” banner after we were done?
    did we torture anyone there?
    this is what happens when your brain feeds from main stream media

  27. Hmm. Interesting. Disturbing. Yes, I’m familiar with Wahhabism. I asked a member of the royal family once about it and he said “There’s no such thing. What we practice is just Islam.” Which is pretty much the party line. Well, you win, but why is this buried in such obscurity? You’d think that it would be much bigger news.

  28. I’ve often wondered too. I catch hints of the existence of classes of muslims, the Wahhabi snobbery I’ve known of, but they don’t go out of their way to air their dirty laundry. Are muslims united in contempt for outsiders if nothing else?

  29. Yeah, Takuan, I was riffing off the Gandhi quote. But if mutairy is going to use it maybe I should charge? I was trying to be oh so wise and world weary but… not really.

    Anyway… I like the renders, they look nice. They are supposed to resemble stones in the desert I guess. The buildings do have windows, you can see them some of the other pics.

    There is another quote along those lines “America is the only country to go from barbarism to decadence without the usual intervention of culture” or something like that. We are very young ya know. I’m sure that Europe has garbage dumps older than we are.

  30. One of the interesting things about Islam is the apparent readiness of most of its most vocal adherents to dismiss all other flavors as “well, that’s not really Islam at all”. This is NOT a mainstream viewpoint; I’ve had many many discussions with a Ismaili coworker of mine, who is fully cognizant of his beliefs’ place in the great tree of Islam.

    Virtually all forms of Islam differ in the branch on which they depart, based on the succession; Sunni vs. Shia is the original split, but there have been dozens of others. Think of it as like Eastern Orthodox vs. Catholic vs. Protestant, with all of the many kinds of Protestants. Islam has Twelvers and Seveners and so on and on and on.

    The Saudis are among the worst offenders in this game of “people with relatively small theological differences from me are apostates”. And of course, most Saudis aren’t necessarily Wahhabi — though all of the royal family are, at least publicly.

    Which is a problem, because Wahhabi is the Islam of bin Laden & co. Which means that royal Saudis are confronted with a fundamental conflict — a semi-official religion that in some interpretations pledges destruction to their family and their rule (if you think bin Laden is anti-American, you should hear what he has to say about the Crown Prince).

    Saudis do like to pretend that this conflict doesn’t exist, and that their Islam is the only Islam, and no others are possible. We see every day on the streets of Baghdad, with Sunnis butchering Shia, and vice versa, and also each other, that this isn’t true. But the entire foundation of the Saudi regime is founded on a bizarre set of obvious untruths. The most important of which is, “we’re right, because we control the oil”. Another of which is, “we’re right, because we’re princes”. Even though there are now something over 100,000 princes, all of whom have a hereditary expectation of unimaginable wealth — yachts, Mediterranean villas, etc. Which is obviously unsustainable, especially in a country where the GDP per head had dropped by over HALF since the 1980s (until the recent oil rise).

    I’m sorry if I went off on you a bit there, Antinous, but I’m extremely sensitive to the jingo charge. And the plain fact is, the Saudis ARE culturally ignorant of the rest of the world, and they DO have an organized and extremely well-funded program of cultural imperialism in the West. My Ismaeli friend says it’s almost impossible to find a translation of the Quran into English (which, being a translation, has zero standing in the religion) that isn’t funded by the Saudi government. I’ve looked, and he’s right.

    Anti-Islam I am absolutely not. Anti-Saudi, well, let’s just say I keep my eyes open. You know that most people under their control are not historically fans of the Sauds; Mecca and Medina, the real seat of Arab culture, for instance, were never under the control of Najd until very recently.

    It’s a bit like if New York and Los Angeles were under the political control of a small group of West Texas ranchers. Bush might like to pretend he’s a rancher, but we all know he’s a prep school Yalie at heart, and all that rancher business is just for show.

  31. If you don’t think jazz is culture, there’s no hope for you. America has as much culture as anyplace on earth. Europe has lots of terrific cemeteries; there’s graffiti inside the dome of St. Paul’s in London that’s older than the USA. But we have Al Green.

  32. Takuan, Muslims are united in nothing, just like Christians, or dry cleaners, or electrical engineers. Arabs are a minority of Muslims; the most populous Muslim countries are Asian: India, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Probably the most important Muslim country culturally is Egypt, which is only Arab by agreement. But yeah, a lot of Muslims have contempt for others; so do a lot of Lutherans.

    I’ll stop now, I’m into the whisky. Antinous, I’m usually a big fan of your postings here, but you got me wrong on this one. Do ask your Saudi prince friends for some statistics on their publishing industry. Ask them how many novels are printed.

  33. Well hello there
    My, it’s been a long long time
    How am I doin’
    Oh well, I guess I’m doin’ fine
    It’s been so long now and it seems that
    It was only yesterday
    Ain’t it funny how time slips away

    How’s your new love
    I hope that he’s doin’ fine
    Heard you told him, yes baby
    That you’d love him till the end of time
    Well you know, that’s the same thing
    That you told me
    Well, it seems like just the other day
    Ain’t it funny how time slips away

    Gotta go now
    Guess I’ll see you hanging round
    Don’t know when though
    Never know when I’ll be back in town
    But I remember what I told you
    That in time you’re gonna pay

    Well ain’t it surprisin’ how time slips away
    Yeah, ain’t it surprisin’ how time slips away

  34. @44 Fnarf

    “America is the only country to go from barbarism to decadence without ever passing through civilization.”

  35. Oops! I meant @ #43 posted by noen.

    But I’d also like to say that I never know who Takuan is replying to with her brief barbs.

    I might think she was referring to my having made a mistake, but it is not altogether clear that she would have had the time to, given that posts take a brief moment to appear and her post appeared only one minute later than mine.

    I would like to think that I was not the recipient of such a snippy comment though. It is morning here and I just woke up. No coffee yet.

  36. @50, yes, I heard you the first time. No, that was Noen. You’re both wrong.

    In 1000 AD Islam was the most advanced civilization on earth. Europeans were living in mud huts if they were lucky. That was then, this is now. Arab culture has contributed almost nothing since then except conquest and slavery. Why is that? It’s certainly not because there’s something wrong with Arabs; rather, there’s something wrong with Arab political organization.

    Meanwhile, America has contributed the lion’s share of world culture in the past century. One could argue that we’ve lost the knack lately; I do, frequently (American popular music, film, art isn’t in the top 10% anymore). But one cannot ignore Louis Armstrong, who is the cultural equal (or better) of Shakespeare, Bach, Picasso. I just got done watching Cyd Charisse’s legs (rest in peace, dear) in “Silk Stockings” with Fred Astaire; the Arabian-peninsula Arabs haven’t come up with anything close since the 1300s.

  37. @52, now I have given you the coveted snippy comment, which apparently is richly undeserved. I’m sorry. You’re just waking up, while I am up well past my bedtime, and I have just been informed that if I type the word “culture” again the Internet Police are going to make me sleep in the yard.

  38. Oh dear God Irshad Manji is a superhero. It’s so easy to type stuff into popular Canadian blogsites; she’s actually going face-to-face with the darkness and winning. She is brave and wonderful. THIS is the answer to the fear.

  39. Wow, that site has some significant problems.

    His basic thesis seems to be that if any verse in the Quran can possibly be interpreted as scientifically true, then we must accept that the Quran is divinely inspired, since there’s no way a fellow like Mohammad could have got it right in any other way.

    But he grossly misunderstands what science means. Science isn’t about sifting through a pile of statements and deciding, well, this one seems true. Science is a method.

    This is exactly equivalent to a creationist site in its failure to grasp the fundamentals of what people are really talking about. In science, the question of whether your magic book is true or not really isn’t a very interesting one.

    More importantly to the debate at hand, about Saudi cultur [watch it!] al openness, it pretty much illustrates the problem I’m accusing them of.

  40. FNARF,
    Thanks for the orientation and culture check. Great stuff, man! (Of course you’re right about “Pops”and Jazz). You got some mean chops.

  41. @44

    My immediate thought was “well then why isn’t there an open source translation wiki for the Quran somewhere on the internet?” I see a need.

  42. <>” wsh cld mk t wht M sd wtht ccdntlly smmnng shmblr t th mtrl pln.”

    …Trs bvsly dsmvwld my pst bcs f t’s “cstc” ntr. Sh nd hv dscssd ths bfr, bt sh kps frgttng tht ‘m nt trll, nd sh shld sv sch ffrts fr th pstngs frm ths tht r.

    …Tht bng sd, stll sy jst *n* nk, drppd rght n th mddl f Thrn, wth ncl Dk’s grnnng mg n th ns, wld gt th pnt crss qt wll. Srsly.

  43. I’ve met a fair number of Saudis, including royals (transplant hospitals are like catnip) and I didn’t get the impression that most of them are that religiously pious in their private lives. I think that it’s about political control with a religious gloss just like in the US or Israel. In a normal country, the underclass might really be devoted, but Saudi Arabia doesn’t really have an underclass unless you include foreign workers. I just don’t feel that demonizing people does any good. Better to criticize the practices.

  44. who did bin Laden intend to recruit in Saudi Arabia then? If there is no underclass, why does the Saudi government instantly kill any dissenters, no matter how slight?

  45. I like the buildings – like giant robot skat. A bit sad, though, that they are to be stuck in the cultural desert that Saudi must surely be given her (sic) medieval and barbaric political and cultural system.

  46. I couldn’t find any artistic/thematic explanation of the designs. You simply cannot sell big-box architecture without the requisite puff-piece about how the architect’s vision evokes the undying spirit of mankind’s quest to blahblahblah. Anyone?

  47. It’s really strange how xenophobic and racist some of these comments have been.

    Remember that had it not been for the East’s libraries previously, our passage through the dark ages would not have been so quick. Western culture decided ‘learnin’ is the devil’ and fucked everything up for centuries.

    It was the East’s libraries which helped us to reconnect with our own intellectual past.

    Personally, I think that this is a lovely change and is in keeping with their historical roots, while the sentiment of destroying their buildings and culture seems in keeping with our heritage of Muslim-hatred harkening back to the Crusades.

    I also think it’s interesting that there would be a museum, theater, library, etc.- It seems that in a digital age, that a digitized library with mass-printing capacity would be even more badass.

    PS- The Zoolander reference was hilarious! :)

  48. Saudi Arabia doesn’t really have an underclass unless you include foreign workers

    And slavery wasn’t so bad in the US, unless you include the slaves.

    Speaking of which, Saudi Arabia outlawed slavery in NINETEEN SIXTY FOUR, and it is still widely practiced there in secret. A lot of those foreign workers (Pakistanis, Palestinians) are not free to go. Note that ONE THIRD of the population of Saudi Arabia is foreign workers — that’s a HUGE underclass. Very few of them are highly-paid American oil cowboys; much of the productive work in the kingdom is done by essentially medieval peons.

    Boyvbar, the Saudis ARE the culture-destroyers. Read the links in my second post. No one has done more damage to worldwide Islamic culture than the Saudi government, not even the Taliban. There’s no racism or xenophobia in my posts. I’m vigorously pro-library. I just wonder what the Saudis are going to put in theirs, since most kinds of books are illegal or quasi-illegal there.

    Antinous, I’m not demonizing the people. I’m demonizing the Saudi Royal Family, who stole their patrimony (look up the history of how they acquired Mecca and Medina), and then lucked into unimaginable oil wealth. Theirs is the most unsustainable government on earth. Don’t you think it’s interesting that they’re the only country in the world named after their living ruler? Not even Zimbabwe or Burma.

    The confrontation between medievalism and modernism in the Middle East is the key global issue of our day. It’s a question that must be settled by them, not us, but I know who I’m rooting for. I hope they get there before the nukes go off, that’s all.

    As for Om, your suggestion is beneath contempt.

  49. Remember that had it not been for the East’s libraries previously, our passage through the dark ages would not have been so quick.

    So where’s the Second Foundation located?

  50. Note that ONE THIRD of the population of Saudi Arabia is foreign workers — that’s a HUGE underclass.

    But in reference to piousness, how many are Muslims? If you take out the Westerners, Indians and Filipinos, how many foreign Muslim workers are there? I would guess that it would be mostly Malaysians, Indonesians and Pakistanis. Saudi Arabia is actually more local than many of the Gulf States where 80% of the population are ‘guest workers’. WE have neo-slaves in the US, too. We just use them as farm workers instead of maids (those too). And China has had several large slave-run factories busted up. Slavery is extremely common throughout much of the world.

  51. I wasn’t referring to piousness, only your claim that there’s no underclass in SA. The fact is that Saudi Arabia is one of the worst offenders in the world in the area of human trafficking; the US State Department says so, and so do most independent observers. Whether Kuwait might be slightly worse doesn’t really make it any better.

    Guest workers in Saudi are routinely brutalized, maimed, even killed by their employers, and it’s not against the law. You can treat them like furniture if you want, and they have no recourse. Google “saudi guest worker” for an almost unlimited stream of horrors. The country is largely built on slave labor.

    To compare the plight of Sri Lankans in Saudi Arabia with that of Mexican immigrants in the US is specious. Yes, there are abuses, but despite all the hoo-hah about illegal immigration, Mexican-Americans legal or otherwise contribute hugely to our culture, and eventually become valuable citizens. That’s not possible in Saudi Arabia, where guest workers can work as slaves for thirty years and still have absolutely no rights whatsoever, and no possibility of ever becoming citizens.

    The Gulf States are, in fact, the MOST class-ridden societies on earth, with a hundred thousand idle princes who’ve never worked a day in their lives at the top and a hundred thousand sex slaves from overseas at the bottom.

    Getting back to the subject: Saudi novelists? There aren’t any. Saudi painters? Illegal. Saudi musicians? Better not get caught; their recording industry revolves around shouting imams preaching unbridled hate.

  52. sorry . i skimmed only most of the posts above .. maybe that was mentioned before .. but i saw the pic before i read the article .. and my first thought was ‘this is a crash landed BSG viper’ … did anyone else thing that ??? or do i need to see a doctor ??

  53. caipirina, maybe you do, you can let off on watching BSG now, won’t be a new episode until 09.

    Snøhetta says it represents the history of oil as it relates to the Saudis, but that is just the BS they told the customer. Personally I like it.

    Art is not utilitarian and never can be.

  54. yeah, for “what’s it supposed to represent?” I’m content with the answer “Uh, something cool?”

  55. Cpt. Tim @18, you made me laugh out loud.

    Fnarf @37: Reformation Protestants! They pulled the same stunt with the whitewash. @62: Exactly like creationists. They’re going to hate that new movement in Turkey that’s finally getting around to applying sophisticated textual critical techniques to the Koran.

    Om @65, I know you’re not a troll. I’ve enjoyed many of your comments. But calls for nuking the Middle East are simply not on. That’s not going to change.

    I’ve reinstated your account on the assumption that you don’t actually suffer from a compulsion to propose nuking the Middle East.

    Antinous @73: Ireland.

    Fnarf @44, 75: As I understand it, the difference between South Carolina in 1860 and human trafficking destinations now is that slaves are cheaper, and you don’t have to provide for them when they get old.

    A while back, I saw an interesting analysis of why extractive economies like petroleum or guano leave so little wealth behind when the stuff runs out. The tendency is for the money stream to be captured by a small ruling class. The government may be democratic, or socialist, or a monarchy, but that’s nominal. The pertinent point is that its economy collapses into a kleptoligopoly run by a small class of owners, and the rest of the country stops mattering to them. They don’t need its labor, and local goods and services can’t compete with luxury imports.

    The al-Saud princes’ taste for yachts, Mediterranean villas, London real estate, fancy cars, and misc. bling does nothing for the Saudi Arabian economy. Whatever else you can say about the building, when the oil money’s gone, the King Abdulaziz Center will still be there.

  56. “I don’t know much about the Saudis but criticizing other cultures is something Americans really shouldn’t do until they get one.”
    Yeah, right. So, criticism is not an individual opinion. It depends where you are born. Maybe only sofisticated (yes, sic) people have the right to do it.

    Let’s pretend everything is all right and shut up, because we were not born in a place where the culture is high enough to allow us to criticize atrocities. It does matter how much have we learned or how much we are against injustice. The only thing that matters is that we were born in the wrong place.

    PS: I am NOT American. But I was born in another place with “no culture”

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