A Saudi research centre designed by Zaha Hadid Architects uses hexagonal cells to provide shelter

Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre (KAPSARC), a non-profit institution for independent energy research in Riyadh, has recently reached completion.

KAPSARC develops policies and economic frameworks that reduce the environmental impact and overall costs of energy supply and enable practical technology-based solutions to use energy more efficiently.

At 70,000m2, the KAPSARC campus consists of five buildings: the Energy Knowledge Centre, the Energy Computer Centre, a conference centre with an exhibition hall and 300-seat auditorium, a research library with archives for 1,00,000 volumes, and a musalla (open space for praying).

Drawing from the five elements of the campus, theĀ centreā€™s design is organised via a cellular and partially modular system that integrates different departmental buildings as a single ensemble with interconnecting public spaces.

The structural system of the hexagonal prismatic honeycomb structures, which use the least material to create a lattice of cells within a given volume, determinedĀ KAPSARCā€™s composition as an amalgamation of crystalline forms that emerge from the desert landscape and evolve to respond to the environmental conditions. The honeycomb grid is compressed towards its central axis as an extension of the natural ā€˜wadiā€™ that runs to the west.

According to Zaha Hadid Architects, the modular design generates consistent organisational, spatial and structural strategies that drive all elements of the plan. The six sides of the hexagonal cells further offer opportunities for increased connectivity in comparison to rectangular cells.

The buildings of the campus surround a large public courtyard thatā€™s shaded by canopies supported by steel columns.Ā Presenting a solid, protective shell from the harsh sunlight from the south, the KAPSARC campus opens to the north and west; encouraging prevailing winds from the north to cool the courtyard during temperate months and facilitating connections with any future expansion of the campus to the north. It also creates connections with the researchersā€™ residential community to the west.

Each of the buildings within the campus is entered through this central public courtyard that also serves as a meeting space and link between buildings during temperate seasons. An underground link also connects the main buildings on the campus for use at the hottest times of the year.

The buildingsā€™ protective shell shieldsĀ KAPSARCā€™s porous architecture within from the weather, while specific hexagonal cells that are strategically located within each building are left open to create a series of sheltered courtyards that welcome daylight into the interior of the space.Ā ā€˜Wind-catchersā€™ integrated within the roof profiles on the southern sides of each courtyard catch the prevailing winds from the north, cooling each courtyard.

ā€œKAPSARCā€™s architecture promotes transparency and encourages an active exchange between researchers and visitors,ā€ the architects said. ā€œBy strategically offsetting floorplates, spatial layering effects are created throughout the centre to provide views to the floors above and below; offering transparency between floors in public areas designed as collective zones for researchers to meet informally and exchange ideas. Secure areas and rooms requiring privacy are located within areas of each building where floorplates overlap.ā€

KAPSARC is Zaha Hadid Architectsā€™ first project to be awarded LEED Platinum certification by the US Green Building Council, as it was designed in response to the environmental conditions of the Riyadh plateau.

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