Architects are space planners. But some spaces are naturally superordinary and need very little human architectural intervention. Such spaces are designed by the earth’s natural ecology and Mother Nature’s cycles and are visited in droves by people from everywhere that come to marvel, absorb and elicit energy. These places exist throughout the world and are recognized by all, the Grand Canyon, Mt. Everest, Victoria Falls, the Norwegian Fjords, are some of the many naturally occurring architectural wonders of the world.

Here in Saudi, we may soon also be recognized for one of our very own natural wonders! Every nation has their architectural wonder that compounds their national pride. One of our architectural wonders here in Saudi Arabia just happens to be a wetland, oddly enough! Imagine this: A naturally occurring wetland in Saudi Arabia, is up for one of the most prestigious architectural awards in the world, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Awarded to the best of the best, the nominations occur every three years, and this year, Saudi Arabia’s Wadi Hanifa Wetland in the Najd Plateau is among the 19 nominees. The nominations range from a textile factory in Turkey, a school bridge in China, the American University Campus in Beirut, to a Mosque in Morocco. In October, of this year, the award will be announced at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

Fishing, picnicking, recreational parks, migratory birds…yes, I’m still talking about Saudi Arabia here, are a few of the activities and sights that the Wadi Hanifa Wetland will soon be recognized for, once the Saudi government and the Al-Riyadh Development Authority transform and restore it back into the oasis it was historically known for.

Saudi Arabia may finally have an opportunity to be awarded for being architecturally superior, yet the ironic part is, the project that we’ve been recognized for, is mostly naturally made.

So, how does a wetland go in the running for an architecture award? Created in 1977 by His Highness the Aga Khan, the award is designed to enhance the understanding and appreciation of Islamic culture as expressed through architecture.

The idea is to recognize examples of architectural excellence, encompassing concerns as varied as contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, restoration, reuse, and area conservation, as well as landscaping and environmental issues. Through its efforts, the Award seeks to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of societies in which Muslims have a significant presence.

The selection process emphasizes architecture that not only provides for people’s physical, social and economic needs, but that also stimulates and responds to their cultural and spiritual expectations. A geographical anomaly located in the middle of the dry Najd Plateau, Hanifa Valley, the Wadi Hanifa Wetlands is at the heart of an ambitious government project to preserve and develop the area in an environmentally friendly manner.

With intense rainfall during short periods, flashfloods are common. A high percentage of the scarce rainfall instantly evaporates, while that which remains ends up as groundwater. However, with over US$100 million invested into the Wetlands for building dams and sewage treatment facilities, the downstream runoff has contributed to the expanding area of small lakes south of Riyadh. Since these developments, a new green corridor nearly100 kilometers long has been formed.

Also, the increase surface water along the banks of the Wadi, has led to the cultivation that’s a source of national pride, the date palm. Another source of national pride, one of the largest oil refineries in the country, is Anyone can send in a recommendation for an architectural project. If you are involved or know of an architectural project that people should know about, please share it with Design Magazine, and let your project be the next to be nominated for the Aga Khan Architectural Award.

also powered by the water runoff from the Wadi. Realizing how much people like to enjoy parks, especially when surrounded by desert, the city of Riyadh also pumps a portion of the runoff back into the city to irrigate its public gardens and parks. The Wetlands has been short listed, because of the particular attention the building scheme has contributed to utilizing local resources and appropriate technology in an innovative way.

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