PNU Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University for Women | Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Perkins+Will | Los Angeles, CA

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Design Statement:
The design team had the opportunity to create the largest university for women in the world. The challenge was to develop a way to incorporate 21st century education and building technologies into the culture, context and region. The team had to take into account climate, security and cultural restraints. The design transcends style and image while still rooted in tradition. The arid desert conditions provided an opportunity for innovative sustainable ideas such as solar power, water reuse, regional planting and the use of local building materials. The buildings are linked together with a series of bridges and connections to create synergy among the women and reinforce collegial relationships. The concepts of separation, transparency, pattern and sequence were primary in the design. The most significant concept is the mandate to completely segregate the female students and staff and shield them from view of any males, in keeping with Saudi tradition. The metaphor of the veils the women wear led to the enclosure of the facilities with a series of beautiful latticework partitions, known as mashrabiy'yah, which function like veils to strategically screen students setting a culturally relevant aesthetic while reducing energy consumption significantly. The partitions and screens become more or less dense as the women gradually remove their veils as they move deeper into the interior and are permitted to freely express themselves in the sanctuary-like core spaces. This 32 million square foot project brings a learning environment that is an environmentally and economically sustainable model for higher education throughout the region.
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