None of the major development projects in Riyadh could have seen the light of day without the efforts of King Salman, the former governor of the capital city. He has a special place in his heart for Riyadh and always seeks to advance it among the league of world cities. King Salman’s efforts to develop Riyadh continue unabated and are inspired by new ideas. Further, he always stresses that our vibrant city should combine its glorious past, its future aspirations and its values, which are deeply rooted in this society, with its social and cultural milieus. His clear understanding of the importance of combining authenticity with modernity has emphasized the need for strengthening the capacity required to achieve such a goal.
What distinguished the king’s approach during his governance of Riyadh was his understanding of the history and heritage of Saudi Arabia in general, and the Riyadh region in particular. His great pride in the historical, political, social and architectural heritage of the Kingdom was another motivation. Dissatisfied with the prevailing urban and architectural trends, the king conceived a development insight of his own. It opposed the adoption or transplant of modern Western or Eastern styles that were irrelevant to the local environment.
Such styles were often imposed on the local environment without any consideration, modification, development, or even adaptation. Glass facades, for instance, were extensively and inappropriately used in an environment that did not call for them. Neighborhoods and streets were transformed into a jumbled mix of imported urban and architectural forms and styles, which were irrelevant to the local social, economic and urban norms. As a result, Riyadh suffered from distortion and the loss of its identity. Moreover, landlords and citizens alike suffered from high operational and maintenance costs as they struggled to mitigate the impact of such an approach.
King Salman stood steadfast during his governance of Riyadh. He was proud of his history and heritage and he cultivated a deep knowledge of that history. His interest in politics, geography, social affairs and architecture also helped him draw the wisdom and lessons that are necessary for rational development. Since he opposed copycat trends that clashed with the local heritage, he pushed through his vision of adopting a new architectural style that was modern and futuristic, while embodying the authentic local architectural heritage. The new architecture he established is worthy of being called “Salmani” architecture. It follows in the footsteps of the traditional architecture and urbanism of Riyadh while employing the latest construction materials and techniques.
The “Salmani” style is a unique architectural and structural approach. Its formation can be observed by the personal effort and approach of King Salman. The style is distinguished by its vitality, flexibility and restriction to limited elements and items. It implores architects and planners to innovate freely within the confines of tradition.
This article is the first to name this architecture. Although many projects and references highlight the special style of architecture and construction Riyadh, the term “Salmani” was never used in the literature.
Riyadh, like other cities in the Kingdom and around the world, almost lost its identity as it developed comprehensively, rapidly, while being invaded by modern urban and architectural styles. In the wake of this development, some of its historical and traditional sites and buildings were not recognized. Preserving these structures was a challenge of its own, and the situation became even more pressing when some such sites and buildings were developed and rehabilitated in a manner that was not utterly appropriate. As a result, King Salman, in his capacity as governor of Riyadh for more than half a century, supported retaining the authenticity of the historical monuments and the architectural heritage of the Riyadh region.
He opposed calls for disregarding traditional urbanism and architecture in favor of modern Western styles. His contribution went as far as selecting many sites for major projects and conceiving design guidelines. As an example, he insisted on building the Imam Turki bin Abdullah Grand Mosque in the same location as that of the old mosque in a clear break with the recommendations of design firms. He also called for keeping the bridge between this mosque and the Governor’s Palace (the Justice Palace or Qasr Al-Hukm) just as it was in the past.
As for his environmental interventions, he ordered the retention of the palm trees at Salam Park in the center of Riyadh, which had been destined to make way for educational and administrative buildings. The maintenance and rehabilitation of Hanifa Valley (Wadi Hanifa), as well as the revival, development and rehabilitation of Sulay Valley (Wadi Sulay), are other cases in point.
What is equally interesting to note is that many of the projects showcased in Riyadh were designed by international consultancy offices, which produced a variety of designs. However, all these designs fell in line with the “Salmani” style that is inspired by our heritage while drawing on high technology. Examples of such prominent projects include the development of the Justice Palace District, the Diplomatic Quarter, the King Abdul Aziz Historical Center, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the new Riyadh Municipality headquarters (which has not yet been implemented).
Another project worth mentioning is Al-Auja Palace in Diriyah. The palace is an architectural icon itself insofar as its name, site and design are concerned. Its traditional construction, which is enhanced by all the necessary technical features, establishes King Salman’s commitment and passion for the local architectural and structural heritage. It also reflects his solid conviction of its sustainability and potential for being a source of inspiration for new and modern projects. Such a “Salmani” style makes us proud as it has redefined the architecture and urbanism in Riyadh.
To conclude, King Salman’s leadership and role in promoting Riyadh, maintaining its historical sites, as well as seeking inspiration for what was amiss in new projects, is well established. His great and immense efforts certainly cannot be covered in one article. Each site and project has its own narrative that embodies King Salman’s wisdom and vision. Discussing these efforts in a separate book, which traces the historical beginnings of his approach to urban development and its impact on Riyadh, may be more worthwhile.
• Prince Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed bin Ayyaf is the vice chariman of the board of directors of the Riyadh Science Foundation, chairman of the board of trustees at Prince Sultan University and King Salman Center for Local Governance. He was the mayor of Riyadh from 1997-2012