Architects of New Misk Art Institute in Saudi Arabia Discuss Design Vision, Erin Hudson, Architectural Record Article, February 2018


Bab al Ard fly-through

Five Elements

Geoarchaeology – is a combined geological and archaeological approach to generate architecture. The project has been developed out of five elements which are: 1. The geology and the climate of the land, 2. Saudi’s cultural heritage, 3. our formal approach to the site, 4. how the nature of the rock led to the architectural form, and 5. archetypes.

1. Geology – Stone and glass are the principle building materials. The building is embedded in its site by quarrying and carving out stone to create an inhabitable landscape of pure, elemental power. The raw material is used to construct the above ground programme. Some of the purest silica sand is found just north of the MiSK site, and a manufacturer has been identified to convert this to float glass to be laminated into blocks to form the facade.

2. Archaeology – Saudi Cultural Heritage – Inspiration came from the shape of Desert Kites designed to ‘gather together’, Nabatean rock-cutting and cistern building, Najdi high thermal mass, filtered light, natural air flows and strategic shading, and the shape and silhouette of Bedouin tents.

3. Response to the site – A direct vertical connection is made between the upper plateau and the wadi levels by cutting a Giant Stair out of the landscape. The programme of Studio and Gallery are located either side of the stair. The studio and educational spaces are more domestic and have smaller openings, while a giant portal announces the public entrance to the gallery. A tent like Roof offers shade and connection.

4. Material to form – The geology of the rock informs different approaches to construction leading to varied types of space from the caves and inhabitable boulders to the light-filled canopy of the roof.

5. Archetypes – The building is driven by a narrative of archetypes that operate on a subconscious level to create an architecture that surprises, stimulates and continues to unfold in the imagination and memory. These archetypes directly link to Saudi’s cultural heritage. 

Archetypes also provide intuitive wayfinding and form the structural approach and environmental strategy. The Cave is a massive thermal heat sink; Thermal Labyrinth is the term for a petroleum-based heat exchange system. It is embedded in water – the Cistern – for additional thermal mass. The Stair and the Forest of Columns are an air draw, offering shade and the capture of prevailing winds. The Cloud provides evaporative cooling and the Secret Gardens, bio component engineering and evapotranspiration. The Towers are the massive buttresses that support the Tent – the steel cable tensile roof.

MiSK city masterplan

The proposal has emerged directly from a series of conceptual moves in response to the site and the brief. First, a direct vertical connection is made between the upper PLATEAU and the WADI by the very simple carving out from the landscape of a gigantic staircase. This connection follows the existing trace of a tributary that has already worn a route between the two levels.  The next move is to divide the programme of STUDIO and GALLERY and to locate each on either side of the stair. The STUDIO, which will contain the more private and intimate artists’ and educational spaces, is characterised by smaller ‘domestic’ external openings, while a gigantic portal announces the public entrance to the GALLERY. Finally, a large tent-like ROOF is added to create shelter, provide shade, and to bridge between the two halves of the programme. Together, these primary elements on the site constitute the formal principles of the proposal.

Excavation and stone processing diagram
Renders by +IMGS
Renders by +IMGS
The White Box – A completely flexible, column free, 1 ,000 square metre gallery space. A second 800 metre square space houses the permanent collection.
Renders by +IMGS
Entrances to the galleries and studios, view of the bridge, library, media centre and restaurant
Renders by +IMGS
View towards the Art Axis, with the main entrances to the MiSK Studios and Galleries
Renders by +IMGS
The Caves – Excavated from the rock at levels -2 and -3 with the qualities of ‘found space’.
Renders by +IMGS
The Cistern – exhibition, performance and event space, overlooked by artists’ studios, education facilities, temporary and permanent galleries and a VIP event space
Renders by +IMGS
The Secret Garden – The Village Square at roof level. Galleries, art dock, offices, a cafe, restaurant and Culinary Institute spaces are surrounded by lush and edible vegetation.
Renders by +IMGS
Renders by +IMGS
Renders by +IMGS


Skene Catling de la Peña: Charlotte Skene Catling, Antje Weihen, Pablo Wheldon
AMDL Circle: Michele de Lucchi, Nicholas Bewick, Giacomo Nava, Anna Schiaretti
Factum Arte: Adam Lowe, Victoria Matatagui, Irene Gaume, Francesco Cigognetti, Damian Lopez Rojo, Otto Lowe, Silvia Alvarez, Miguel Hernando, Pedro de Miro Infante, Manuel Franquelo
BuroHappold: Franck Robert, Alfredo Gonzalez, Rachel Monteith, Mike Cook, Duncan Campbell, Kostis Lysikatos, Kevin Yin, Martha Voulakidou, Myrto Skreta-Krikou
Animation and renders by Rocco Valantines, Alessandro Balducci
Special thanks to Danny Lane, Fantini, Batlle i Roig