In 1975 (1395H), the Cabinet decided to relocate Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic missions from Jeddah to Riyadh. Accordingly, the Royal Commission for Riyadh City commenced on a strategic plan to design and carry out the Diplomatic Quarter (DQ) project to accommodate the foreign embassies, and the KSA-based regional and international organizations.
The quarter is located northwest of Riyadh over a total area of about 8 km². Wadi Hanifa forms the western border of the quarter, while Salboukh and Makkah highways border it from east and south, respectively. The RCRC was determined to develop a world-class neighborhood equipped with the necessary urban infrastructure integrated with the metropolitan development strategy.
Subsequently the plan was drawn up taking into account three considerations:
The construction of the Diplomatic Quarter coincided with the beginning of the new Hijri century 1400H (November 1979), a period when many other major government projects were being implemented. The neighborhood has its own unique cultural landmarks such as the Cultural Palace and other venues for holding conferences, forums, exhibitions and social activities.
The Diplomatic Quarter was designed as a central complex comprising a Friday Mosque and a complex for government facilities, surrounded by full range of services including Souqs (markets) and a medical center. The area is flanked by two main boulevards that connect the site at either end to freeway system via Salboukh and Makkah highways. Surrounding the center and strung out along the two boulevards for maximum accessibility are the embassies and ambassadors’ residences behind them, in distinct clusters, are the residential neighborhoods, each with its own individual configuration. The traditional Arab city plan is reflected in the strong central focus on a community center, a mosque and a park. The tradition is also very much present in the road pattern, although similar patterns can also be found in many modern housing layouts.
Land uses in the Diplomatic Quarter were distributed appropriately to maximize its beauty and harmony. About 22.2% is decimated for residential areas, 14% for the embassies and ambassadorial houses, 10.6% for the public services, 5.7% for commercial uses, 16.6% for roads and streets, while 30% of the quarter’s area was dedicated to parks, public gardens and plazas.
The Quarter’s infrastructure facilities include a 50-kilometer long road network, including two 47-meter-wide boulevards with two 7.5-meter wide lanes on each side in addition to an 8-meter-wide island, service passageway and 10-meter roadside parks on both sides. Two 3-meter-wide pedestrian pavements were established on both sides.
A 70-km drinking water network was established in addition to irrigation networks totaling 36.1 km. The quarter also has sewage systems, power grids, telecommunication networks, two water towers, a wastewater treatment plant and a fully automatic irrigation control system.
The quarter also has many other utilities such as kindergartens, Friday mosque, elementary/intermediate/high schools, and international schools.
The quarter’s comprehensive plan paid special attention to landscaping and afforestation of both public and private buildings. Date palm is the main element in street afforestation. The areas surrounding the Diplomatic Quarter are extensively landscaped; each central housing area had its intensively cultivated local park. The pedestrian passageways network connecting the housing areas with the main utilities located at the central area are also afforested. About 8,000 palms were planted along streets. The DQ 122 culs-de-sac are afforested and provided with parking lots, children playgrounds and shade trees.
Around the diplomatic quarter, a high earth berm was constructed to protect the housing areas from pollution and noise. It extends for about 8 kilometers along the highway and varies in height from 13 to 18 meters. The materials excavated from different sites were used in the construction of this berm. A hydro-seeding system is used for afforestation. It is also equipped with walking and jogging paths and picnic areas.
Extensive landscaping surrounds the Diplomatic Quarter from the Wadi edge to northwest and west of the quarter. For it, a new approach to landscape design in Saudi Arabia was developed to cope with problems of limited water and a hot, harsh environment over a large area. The natural layered limestone were cut, benched, and reshaped to provide rustic walkways and deep niches for welcoming shade and privacy, topographic depressions and channels were used to convey natural runoff into retention basins where native desert plantings are used. Communal picnic areas are scattered throughout. Native seeds were gathered to propagate plant material at the Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter nursery to supply Good-looking plants for a landscape without requiring water and reflect the surrounding desert environment.
DQ-based Public Services Include:
The DQ has a number of international schools, in addition to the King Faisal School Complex, with plans to initiate educational investment opportunities for investors.
The DQ has internal and external sports facilities scattering inside an 84,000-m²park. Operated by a private company, the internal facilities include a basin, squash hall, group games hall, and a gym. The external sports facilities include a swimming pool with artificial waves, and playgrounds for tennis, handball, soccer and hockey.
The heart of the quarter hosts a Friday Mosque with a design that reflects the traditional architectural style and a capacity of 5,000 people. The quarter also has other five mosques falling in the heart of the different residential areas.
Design of Tuwaiq Palace achieves harmony with its environs and successfully reinforces the “oasis” concept. With sidewalks, platforms and recesses designed within an outer wall, the three main buildings are linked like tents.
The Palace stands inside a long and undulating wall covered with local stone. It is 7-13 meters wide and has a gradual slope that allows pedestrians to climb up to roof level offering open platform overlooking Wadi Hanifa. From this wall, a number of tents made of protruding insulation material forms open balconies on the outer surroundings. In the vicinity of the Palace is a landscaped garden with a sunshade in the center made of stained glass panels and a rocky fountain. The artfully coordinated and integrated design of the site extends to the outer surroundings of the Palace and the adjacent rocky areas. It also includes playgrounds, swimming pools and car parks.
The two-floor building occupies an area of 12,000 m². It has a hall for celebrations with a capacity of 1000 attendees, and an auditorium equipped with 634 seats, modern visual and audio systems, and multilingual simultaneous interpretation system. The center has an external partially-roofed yard for celebrations and folkloric shows.
The Royal Commission for Riyadh City 1067-m2 premises falls in central quarter and comprises a three-level building consisting of two parts hosting offices and underground parking lots. In both parts of the building, all offices overlook a hall decorated with flowers and attractive plants.
The SCTA environment-friendly building occupies an area of 17512 m²and utilizes natural elements like light, transparency, scope and space distribution to create a unique atmosphere.
This 21,270-m²facility consists of five floors, two of them are underground. It has a place for prayer that accommodates 200 people, administrative offices, and a hall for celebrations, conferences, exams, and meetings, in addition to a medical library, archive and a parking area with a capacity of 192 cars.
The station was built in the central part of the quarter over an area of 4375 m². The building has three floors in addition a parking lot for private cars. It also has administrative offices, operation room, tower, training arena and a garage with a capacity up to 8 fire engines and a cubicle for soldiers that can accommodate about 150 individuals.
The 6080-m²plaza falls in-between the two main boulevards dividing the Diplomatic Quarter into two almost equal parts. Horizontal extension is the dominating style in all buildings along roadsides. Al-Kindi Plaza is an example to be followed by other Arab and Muslim societies in designing their cities. This style attractively preserves the traditional bond between mosque and other public spaces. Al-Kindi Plaza was considered as representing a standard to be copied by the cities of the Arab and Muslim world. The plaza has two fountains, green areas, landscapes and shadowy areas. The mosque, premises the Royal Commission for Riyadh City overlook the plaza.
DQ-based private facilities include:
According to the project’s comprehensive plan, the Diplomatic Quarter could accommodate more than 120 diplomatic missions. Currently, places were dedicated to about 85 recognized diplomatic missions in the Kingdom. Some missions preferred having separate locations for embassies’ premises and ambassadorial residences, and thus they were provided with two locations.
A number of locations across the quarter were dedicated to some international organizations, including the UN, whose headquarter occupies an area of 10,491 m², and the the World Energy Forum’s premises over 9123 m2 approximately.
The DQ hosts a group of regional organizations including Arab Education Office for the Gulf States, Gulf TV, Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat), the Executive Board of Health Ministers’ Council for the GCC, Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Organization, Co-operation Council States Specifications and Standards Board, and the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu.
A complex for the Public Pension Agency was developed in the central DQ over 73,519 m²with commercial shops overlooking the yards, walkways, residential complexes equipped with underground parking lots. The DQ also hosts other residential, financial and sports investment projects.
The quarter has five residential complexes, each accommodates 3000 – 6000 people. These areas comprise about 1734 plots that can be used to build 3359 housing units.
Diplomatic Quarter Project won the following awards:
The Diplomatic Quarter won the Arab Cities Award for Architecture. The Award by the Arab Cities Organization recognizes the Diplomatic Quarter as being the best architectural project built in an Arab city in a style that reinforces the credibility of Islamic Arab architecture and its growth and development values. The architecture of the Diplomatic Quarter reflects the traditional architecture of Saudi Arabia that reconciles with the environment of the region and provides open spaces and elegant landscaping. The natural environment has been used to isolate it from traffic pollution and noise.
The Award committee considered the Diplomatic Quarter a densely populated, modern governmental district that successfully and effectively accommodates many embassies, consulates and various types of related buildings in addition to providing general plazas and gated recreational parks to the citizens of Riyadh. The committee recognized that the design of the Diplomatic Quarter has been made environmentally self–sustainable through the planting of trees, shrubs and grasses in the area and landscaping of the immediate rocky desert surroundings. As a result, the committee found the project to be realistic and highly innovative as well as self-sustaining in an arid environment.
The jury of the Award hailed Al-Kindi Plaza, stating that it is located between the two main roads that divide the Diplomatic Quarter into two almost equal parts. The adjacent buildings along the sides of the roads have been designed and built according to the style of horizontal extension, separated by entrances and open spaces. The jury recognized Al-Kindi Plaza as a model that can be imitated and adopted by other Arab and Muslim societies in designing and building their cities.
This style, the jury added, preserves, in an attractive manner, the traditional link between the mosque and other public spaces. The jury considered Al-Kindi Plaza as representing a standard to be copied by the cities of the Arab and Muslim world.
The jury of the Award stated that the design of Tuwaiq Palace realizes the highest level of harmony between the design and shape of the Palace site with all its components and successfully reinforces the concept of the oasis. With sidewalks, platforms and recesses designed within an outer wall, the three main buildings are linked with each other in the shape of tents. The Palace stands inside a long and undulating wall covered with local stone. It is between seven and 13 meters wide and has a gradual slope that allows pedestrians to climb up to roof level offering an open platform overlooking Wadi Hanifah. From this wall, a number of tents made of insulated plastic material protrude to form open balconies on the outer surroundings. In the vicinity of the Palace is a landscaped garden with a sunshade in the center made of stained glass panels and a fountain that has been installed in the rocks. The artfully coordinated and integrated design of the site extends to the outer surroundings of the Palace and the adjacent rocky areas and includes playgrounds, swimming pools and car parks.