10th April 2019
In laying out the framework for a high-tech, sustainable city outside Riyadh, the designers have created a comprehensive sustainable development strategy to guide urban growth according to site-specific constraints and opportunities. Key to this approach is Situ’s landscape strategy.
Situated on the South Western outskirts of Riyadh, the King Abdullah City for Atomic & Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) project is designed to be an exemplary eco-city with the capacity to accommodate approximately 80,000 people. It is conceived as a research-focused, net-zero carbon, and environmentally sustainable prototype city that would position Saudi Arabia as a global leader in renewable energy technology. The 6,500-hectare development is also envisioned as a model for resilient urban growth that promotes conservation of resources — in accordance both with today’s global environmental movement and the ancient teachings of Islam that call for a harmonious relationship with nature. In addition to emission-free energy production and related education and research institutions, the project includes a full urban complement of residential, retail, healthcare, leisure, and commercial facilities, plus schools, community centers, and mosques.
Site Appraisal: Landscape, Ecology, and Resources
The landscape character identified across the site relates to the topographic, vegetation, and existing settlement pattern associated with this area. Summer temperatures are extremely hot, with highs around 45 degrees Celsius, while winter temperatures drop as low as 5 degrees Celsius at night, and 20 in the day. The wind is strong and the dust is often so thick that visibility is under 10 meters.
The relief is characterized by steep slopes forming the wadi landscape. Planting across the site reflects historic water channels with larger species more typically associated with dispersed settlements and road networks established in this area. Development will avoid the steeper slopes in order not incur the need for large amounts of cut & fill. The existing access points to the site from the highway and to the east and north will be enhanced and will work with slopes to avoid excessive cut. An existing junction on the highway to the west of the site dictates where access to the lowlands area can be located due to proximity.
The majority of the rainwater falling on the KA-CARE site will not have chance to infiltrate into the ground due to the heavy and rapid nature of storms when they do occur, depositing up to 21mm of water within one day. Rainfall runoff will collect rapidly into the many wadis crossing the site, resulting in large, sudden storm flows. These large volumes of water from extreme storm events should be captured and reused. However, the water must therefore be effectively capture and stored safely in a manner that does not leave it open to stagnation and evaporation. Development will be positioned with respect to stormwater flows within the wadi landscape for the benefit of both buildings and the water supply.
Looking to the broader context, the KA-CARE site is positioned within an area zoned for the environmental protection. This broader area, covering an area over 2,000 square kilometers, encompasses the beautiful and largely undisturbed landscape of the Towaiq uplands to the west of the Wadi Hanifah. Omrania has proposed that the designated area should be designated a National Park, to create a context for the eco-city and to preserve this exceptional resource for future generations. In addition, links would be encouraged with the King Abdullah International Gardens, located to the immediate south-east of KA-CARE, the restored ancient city of Dirriyyah, the new attractions and public parks of the Wadi Hanifah and the extraordinary landscape of the uplands.
Landscape and Environmental Strategy
Prompted by the exceptional quality of the existing landscape, particularly with regard to the dramatic escarpment that divides the two principal areas of the site, Situ’s landscape and environmental strategy aims to:
- Adopt an organic approach to the initiation and evolution of the plan, such that it remains in tune with the qualities and constraints of the landscape in which it is to be developed.
- Respect and enhance the desert landscape as a functional and visible presence.
- Allow adaptation of the desert landscape only where excess spent water permits this, in close proximity with the planned communities.
- Encourage the cultivation of indigenous flora.
- Promote the accommodation of the KA-CARE site into a broader Towaiq National Park setting, participating in the control of the “restored” or “designed” landscape with a view to celebrating the qualities of this place.
- Accommodate visitor attractions that can enhance the enjoyment of the landscape for both visitors and residents.
- Where appropriate, and with sparing use of irrigation water, implement richly landscaped “intensive” parks, gardens and pedestrian routes within the proposed communities, ensuring a generous feeling of space, shade, and leisure opportunities.