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  • Ahmed Saleh

Islamic Arts Biennale Commemorates Cultural Achievements in Saudi Arabia's First House

In a momentous occasion that signifies a turning point for art and culture in Saudi Arabia, the inaugural edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale is set to commemorate the remarkable cultural, intellectual, and artistic accomplishments that can be traced back to the revered House of Allah, also known as Awwal Bait ("First House"). On the opening day of the Biennale, Omrania made a notable contribution by participating in a panel discussion centered around design innovation. The highly anticipated Diriyah Biennale made its grand debut this year, captivating art enthusiasts with its unique curatorial program. This prestigious event, which takes place every other year, showcases a captivating blend of Islamic arts and contemporary art. The inaugural edition of the biennale delved into the profound rituals of Islam, offering a thought-provoking exploration through the mediums of movement, sound, and the intangible lines of direction. In a remarkable display of artistic grandeur, the Biennale has found its home in a sprawling, state-of-the-art venue spanning an impressive 70,000 square meters. Nestled beneath the majestic canopy of the renowned Hajj Terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, this newly constructed space sets the stage for an extraordinary showcase of creativity and innovation.

Omrania, a prominent participant in the design industry, took part in a thought-provoking panel discussion on the inaugural day of the highly anticipated Biennale on January 23, 2023. The focus of the engaging discourse revolved around the future of design innovation, not only within the Kingdom but also on a global scale. In a recent panel discussion, Mr. Mahmoud Abu Ghazal, the esteemed Design Director of Omrania, shared his insights alongside other distinguished industry leaders. The panel included Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, the CEO of the Architecture and Design Commission at the Ministry of Culture; Farrokh Derakhshani, the Director of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture; Hanif Kara OBE, who was recently honored with the prestigious Fazlur R. Khan Lifetime Achievement Award; and Thomas Behr, a notable representative from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

The highly anticipated panel discussion, titled "Saudi Arabia as a Place of Design Innovation: The Aga Khan Award for Architecture Conversation," took center stage at the event. Omrania, a prominent player in the Kingdom's design and development sector, has been actively engaged in numerous ambitious projects. Notably, the company played a pivotal role in the design of the renowned Tuwaiq Palace, which garnered the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1998.

The Tuwaiq Palace, known for its innovative and contextual design, draws inspiration from the renowned Hajj Terminal. Designed by SOM and completed in 1982, the Hajj Terminal was recognized for its architectural excellence and was honored with the prestigious Aga Khan Award in 1983. In a harmonious blend of contemporary and conventional construction methods, both structures skillfully integrate modern and traditional building technologies, resulting in visually striking and intellectually stimulating designs. By incorporating lightweight tensile structures, each project achieves its unique objectives with finesse and ingenuity. Tuwaiq Palace, a distinguished establishment known for its diplomatic and cultural significance, seamlessly combines cutting-edge canopies, gracefully curved stone walls, and a vibrant oasis garden. On the other hand, the Hajj Terminal, an architectural marvel, takes on a different role as a grand entrance to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Serving as a public gateway, it boasts the title of the world's largest fabric structure, enclosing an expansive covered space that can accommodate a staggering 500,000 pilgrims each year.

The jury of the prestigious Aga Khan Award has heaped praise on the design of the Hajj Terminal's roofing system. They lauded it for successfully tackling the monumental task of covering a vast space with unparalleled elegance and beauty. In their assessment, the jury noted that the Hajj Terminal structure has not only pushed the boundaries of existing building technology but has also managed to maintain a sense of lightness and airiness, reminiscent of the traditional tent structures that have long thrived in desert climates. In a remarkable collaboration, Fazlur Rahman Khan assumed the pivotal role of lead structural engineer, representing the esteemed architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).

In a significant move, the decision to establish the Biennale's permanent residence at the Hajj Terminal reflects a commendable reinvestment in this significant masterpiece of contemporary architecture and engineering. The Diriyah Foundation has revealed in a statement that the highly anticipated Biennale is going to increase the significance of the Hajj Terminal in terms of both its practicality and its spiritual essence. The aim is to establish the terminal as a central hub for the commemoration of Islamic arts and culture while also nurturing Jeddah's thriving local arts scene all year round. The Biennale has unveiled a range of new facilities beneath the terminal's canopy, including exhibition spaces, workshops, a theater, classrooms, and retail and dining spaces. Omrania, a prominent architectural firm, has expressed its admiration for the transformation of the Hajj Terminal into a cultural space that will not only benefit the city but also the region, country, and Islamic world at large. Omrania, the renowned architectural firm, invites readers to delve into their captivating design ethos. This distinctive approach, meticulously crafted by the talented team, aims to fashion spaces that seamlessly blend functionality, livability, contextuality, sustainability, and aesthetic appeal. For an in-depth exploration of Omrania's philosophy, readers are encouraged to peruse their enlightening posts on the multifaceted interpretations of function in architecture and the art of resource-effective design.

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