KAUST Breakwater Beacon

Urban Arts Projects
, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
500 sqm

Designed by ; A 60m high ‘Breakwater Beacon’ centerpiece of a $7bn research institution for the King Abdullah University for Science & Technology (KAUST), overlooking the Red Sea in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Australia based designers have drawn inspiration from Arabic maritime traditions, in-region artwork and architectural detailing to create a modern interpretation of a lighthouse from pre-cast concrete blocks rising out of the sea in an elliptical spire.

Built in pre-cast concrete blocks, Breakwater Beacon’s complex structure is a collection of unique amorphous hexagonal sections stepping up out of the Red Sea into an elliptical spire. The reverential interior space — with the patterned skin of the atrium creating a dappled shaded effect — is designed for communal gatherings and includes an amphitheater and reflection pond.

Breakwater Beacon is part of a major international arts program at KAUST to celebrate its international platform of collaboration and exchange. Curated by UAP, the primary focus of the program 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 program includes work by the renowned Swedish artist Carsten Höller, who is known for his Unilever installation at the Tate Modern.

Breakwater Beacon was designed by , Principal of Australian-based UAP, who create site-specific art and design commissions for architectural and landscape environments, including the arts program for the Shanghai World Expo 2010. The striking structure creates a contemporary interpretation of a lighthouse and will act as a symbol for the university.

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 tons 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 tons 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.

The reward though is a structure that will eventually glow from the inside thanks to 150 or so lights, which will grow more intense near the top. The interior atrium of the beacon will be clad in marble and furnished with bleachers, allowing visitors a little cool repose and the chance to admire the reflection pond, also due to be included. The interior temperature of the open air structure is considerably lower than outside, thanks to the wind-tower effect the design induces.
• “It’s almost like there is a reverential feel when you enter the huge internal atrium,” said Tobin.
• “Dappled light in the internal space makes it more protected from the heat of summer.
• “The idea was that the building material skin is pre-cast concrete, which will gradually weather. Stepping inside, you have the soft quality skin of the marble, for a more tactile environment on a human scale.”

A tough engineering challenge, the tower is self-supporting thanks to Robert Bird, an engineering firm and the construction team supplied by Saudi Binladen Group. For the first 22m each hexagon that makes up the exterior pattern is different, a fact that meant there were three teams of surveyors working on the project for the duration of the construction.

The Breakwater Beacon has become a symbol for the University. Responding to a brief from the client and project architects HOK, Urban Art Projects created a contemporary interpretation of a lighthouse. The work drew inspiration from ancient Arabic maritime traditions, in-region artwork and architectural detailing, linking to the marine ecology of the Red Sea.

The Beacon stands at the entry point to the harbor, soaring sixty meters into the sky creating a university marker. Built in pre-cast concrete blocks, the complex structure is a collection of unique amorphous hexagonal sections stepping up out of the Red Sea into an elliptical spire. The reverential interior space – with the skin of the atrium creating a dappled shaded effect – is designed for communal gatherings.

Project name: KAUST Breakwater Beacon
Location: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal 23955 6762, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Type: Public Facilities, Art in Architecture, Landmark, Skyscraper
Structural: Built in pre-cast concrete blocks
Height: 60 m
Footprint Area: 500 sqm
Project Year: 2009
Inauguration Ceremony Date: September 2009, 23
Status: Built
Completion Year: 2009
Client / Owner / Developer: |
Architects: Bureau Proberts, Liam Proberts, Alex Eckersley
Design: UAP – Urban Art Projects, Daniel Tobin, Matthew Tobin, Jamie Perrow
Artist: Daniel Tobin
Project Director: Lance Bignell
Engineer: , Ross McDonald, Lance Barton
3D visualization:
Text Description: © Courtesy of  UAP – Urban Art Projects
Images: © UAP – Urban Art Projects



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