2011 Recipient | AIA/ALA Library Building Awards

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KAUST Library | Notes of Interest

Situated as the focal point of the new campus, the library crystallizes the architectural ambitions of this university as a contemporary global center for scientific thinking that is rooted in local cultural and place. The planning of the library challenges normative library science by de-emphasizing the library as a repository of books while emphasizing the social dimensions of learning and the access to knowledge through technology. While it is constructed in modern building language, this library makes poetic allusions to Arabic architecture recalling the traditional House of Knowledge.

The House of Knowledge as was a place of gathering and learning, and at this university the library serves this function, providing informal settings for scientists to share thoughts and ideas. Group study areas and informal lounges are located throughout the library, and a café is integrated at the entry, blurring the boundary of formal and informal knowledge sharing.

Essentially, the library is a simple platonic volume that has been covered with a light-filtering, translucent, stone shroud. The shroud and form are manipulated to facilitate the library's program and give it character. The shroud drapes the north and south façades while leaving the east and west facades open. This provides grand views of the Red Sea to the west and transparency toward the campus to the east. Purposeful incisions in the shroud connect it with its surroundings.

The library engages light to create a marvelous and palpable sense of temporality that enriches its character and makes it an iconic part of its campus. During the day, the translucent stone of the shroud appears to be solid from the exterior but luminous on the interior. This gives the library a robust sense of permanence. But in the evening, as the differential light levels between indoors and outdoors flips, the shroud becomes translucent and begins to glow. Through this transformation, the interior is put on display, and library becomes a luminous beacon - representing the campus as a paradigmatic center for thinking, science and learning.


  • Contractor: Oger International, Saudi Oger
  • Environmental: RWDI
  • Façade consultants: Front Inc.
  • MEP Engineer: Vanderweil
  • Structural Engineer: Walter P. Moore
  • Photo Credit: © Sam Fentress

KAUST Library

  • Architect: HOK
  • Location: Thuwal, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Jury Comments

There is something magical about the way the façade transforms, the way the skin works from dusk until dawn, pulsing and in flux.

It stands as a beautiful metaphor for knowledge, as things go from opaque to revealing… Symbolic of change and growth.

Its program as a library seems to represent what we are moving towards in the future for libraries: much more public, social space without the imposition of looming storage.

2011 AIA/ALA Library Building Awards Jury

  • Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, Chair
  • Marlon Blackwell Architect
  • Fayetteville, Ark.
  • Anders Dahlgren
  • Library Planning Associates, Inc.
  • Normal, Ill. 
  • Drew Harrington
  • University of Portland, Dean of the Library
  • Portland, Ore.
  • David Moore, AIA
  • Craig Gaulden and Davis, Inc.
  • Greenville, S.C.
  • Joanna Pestka, FAIA
  • NY Public Library
  • New York City
  • Thomas Schneiter
  • Library Consulting, High-Density Storage
  • Madison, Conn.

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