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Abiat Architects | The ARC Office Building

Architecture Abiat Architects | The ARC Office Building

The Arc is an attempt to achieve a delicate balance between two disparate, but not necessarily conflicting, conceptual notions: the practical, systematic, economical and marketable qualities that the physical rational component of a rentable office building essentially requires on one hand, and the personal expression, the humanistic freedom, the cultural identity and the regional specificity that the moral romantic component, manifested into the human future tenants of that office building, also essentially requires. Such a dilemma usually surfaces when designing within contexts, such as Saudi-Arabia, that are simultaneously characterized by deep rooted culture and traditions at the same time as fast pace of modernization. The complexity of the challenge gets even more amplified when the idea of the physical environment to be designed is itself a product of the newly imported aspects of western civilization.

The Arc occupies a prime location site of about 5250 square meters of area in a newly developed neighborhood of Jeddah. It is an office building composed of a basement, ground, first, and second floor with a total area of 11000 meters squared. The net rentable area of 5800 meters squared is composed of 20 basic flexible office space units that can be joined according to the market requirements. Each unit has a separate entrance opening directly to the outside and extends from the basement to the second floor having its own private parking spaces and roof terrace overlooking the nearby Red Sea coast, thus perfectly applying the concept of an “independent office villa”. Morphologically, the result is a fan shaped mass sculpted by a 3dimentional folding plane into a series of consecutive negative spaces and positive spaces. The negative spaces are semi-open courtyards grouping the units’ entrances and the negative spaces are glass boxes screened by operable aluminum tight meshes.

Abiat Architects | The ARC Office BuildingThe project’s scheme is conceived following the client’s desire of a flexible floor plan dividable into equal modular rentable office areas on his arc shaped land plot, hence the name of the project. The challenge then is to realize his economical vision and to stay faithful to the rational program of the project without falling into the trap of an architectural monotonous form imposed by the logically identical physical corporate units. Therefore, the design is relying on environmental, humanistic, cultural and symbolic tools emerging from the specific orientation of the site, popular means of self-expressions, and the geo-cultural characteristics of the larger Jeddah context, to resolve that sensitive architectural dilemma between equally indispensable logical uniformity and humanistic diversity.

Environmentally, the aluminum lattices wrapping the office boxes are fully adjustable and dividable into numerous sun breakers panels that can fold and slide each independently reaching a complete perpendicular position to the building’s façades. In that way, both opposing goals of protecting the building’s occupants from the severe western sun, as well as of allowing them to enjoy the adjacent Red Sea view are successfully reconciled and achievable according to those occupants’ will.  Culturally, the folding plane wrapping the office boxes is clad in local beige stone and continuously metamorphoses from floors to walls and roofs, symbolizing the geographical and traditional values inherent in the buildings context and deeply shared by its different tenants no matter their apparent diversity may seem. The operable sun breaking system is an abstract modern recall of the traditional system of the mashrabiahs.

As per the much emphasized aspect of expressing natural diversity that exists among human personalities and corporate entities even with their innate cultural common shared values, a number of strategies are employed. First, the operable sun breaker meshed panels enveloping the glass boxes are fully controlled by human will and preference, which produce different series of patterns of consecutive vertical solid and void slots at any given point of the day. Those “bar codes” look-like facades are a manifestation of the corporate and diverse identity of the various people controlling them from behind. Second, each of the office units/boxes is boldly characterized by a vivid glossy primary color paint coating the inner side of its share of the folding connecting stone plane. Finally, huge alphabet characters hanging behind the aluminum meshes and painted with the same bright shades label each of the office units in a happy funky mass popular fashion boldly stressing human variety and uniqueness issues in the midst of a contemporary mass productive world.

Location: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Architect: Abiat Architects
Award: World Architecture Festival 2011 – Shortlisted
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