KAUST Breakwater Beacon
Leading international design studio Urban Art Projects (UAP) in collaboration with Fairweather Proberts Architects have completed the 60m high ‘Breakwater Beacon’. The work is the centre piece of the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a USD 7 billion world-class research institution located at Thuwal Point, overlooking the Safaa Harbor and the Red Sea, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Led by Daniel Tobin, Principal of Australian-based UAP, the design draws inspiration from ancient Arabic maritime traditions, in-region artwork and architectural detailing, linking to the marine ecology of the Red Sea. Breakwater Beacon’s complex structure is a collection of unique amorphous hexagonal sections stepping up out of the Red Sea into an elliptical spire. Engaging Fairweather Proberts Architects, an Australian firm who has successfully collaborated with UAP in previous public art projects, ensured the design intent was retained throughout the project’s development.
Acknowledging Le Corbusier’s control of light within the Notre Dame du Haut, the patterned skin of the atrium creates a dappled shaded effect, forming reverential interior spaces for communal gatherings with an amphitheatre and reflection pond. The design’s structure acts as a natural cooling tower similar to that of a minaret on a mosque. The tapered tower draws up the hot air, bringing in breezes at the lower level to cool the internal space and the surrounding plaza.
The tower is divided into three sections, tapering from a base of approximately 30m x 25m to 3.0m x 2.5m at the top. It comprises of 187 individually cast hexagonal blocks, weighing up to 18 tonnes each. The individual internal hexagons were pre-cast off-site then lifted into place on site using a variety of cranes including one of the largest in the world, a 550 tonne mobile crane. The outer skin of the lower spire was completed by fixing the external pre-cast hexagonal elements, which slotted on to the corresponding internal hexagons to seamlessly conceal the in-situ pour. The dramatic upper spire of the tower is made solely from these pre-cast blocks. All construction of the pre-cast elements was completed within 50kms of the site ensuring the project was consistent with the studio’s sustainable design approach. Materials were selected for their durability and longevity, with a predicted life span of 100 years. For a high quality finish and appearance a slightly off white concrete was chosen for all precast elements.
Breakwater Beacon is part of a major international art programme at KAUST which celebrates the University as an international platform for collaboration and exchange. Curated and delivered by UAP, the primary focus of the programme is to interpret and present interdisciplinary art and design that stimulates creativity and interaction, drawing inspiration from KAUST’s unique geography, science and technology-based research, language, text, regional histories and traditions. The programme includes work by the renowned Swedish artist Carsten Höller, who is known for his Unilever installation at the Tate Modern, Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich and Scottish-based collaborative Dalziel & Scullion.