North, South, East and West. Riyadh | Dammam

From Riyadh to Johannesburg, via Sharjah, Dubai, and on to Mexico City and São Paulo, design speaks a single language: tradition and craftsmanship, on the one hand, and research, innovation and inclusion, on the other. These are the key words capable of bringing otherwise distant worlds closer together

Johanna Grawunder, Noor Riyadh 2022

Not far from the Emirates, which were the first in the Gulf to develop design-related cultural strategies, Saudi Arabia is also looking at a similar model for cultural development. A land of pilgrimages and ancient civilisations, deserts, sandstone mountains and breathtaking views, Saudi Arabia is now undergoing profound social changes. Skyscrapers and shopping malls are rising up alongside the ruins of early settlements and a great cultural ferment is running across the whole peninsula.

Sabine Marcelis, Light Horizon, Noor Riyadh 2022
Sabine Marcelis, Light Horizon, Noor Riyadh 2022

Riyadh for example hosts Noor Riyadh ever year, a major festival of light that fills the Saudi capital with impressive light installations with the aim of involving and cultivating local talent.

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra)

Dammam, the biggest city on the east coast, is also a cultural destination thanks to the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), a remarkable building designed by Norwegian architects Snøhetta with 100,000 square metres given over to exhibitions, events, shows and workshops. The building is sensational: stainless steel tubes individually shaped and folded make up the outer skin while inside a theatre, cinema, auditorium and a range of exhibition spaces are articulated around a large central atrium that provides access to the upper floors where a large library is located.