U.S. Consulate General Dhahran

  • Client U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
  • Expertise Civic + Government
  • Region Middle East
  • Location Dhahran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

From the site planning to the architectural design, the new consulate applies time-tested strategies for creating a hospitable environment within the desert climate. The state-of-the-art facility resonates with cultural traditions while serving the needs of today’s diplomatic community.

Project Facts
  • Status Construction Complete
  • Completion Year 2022
  • Design Finish Year 2020
  • Size Site Area: 10.50 acres Number of Stories: 3 Building Gross Area: 7,833 square meters
  • Sustainability Certifications LEED BD+C NC (New Construction) Silver, BD+C, Silver
Project Facts
  • Status Construction Complete
  • Completion Year 2022
  • Design Finish Year 2020
  • Size Site Area: 10.50 acres Number of Stories: 3 Building Gross Area: 7,833 square meters
  • Sustainability Certifications LEED BD+C NC (New Construction) Silver, BD+C, Silver

Planning a contemporary consulate, informed by local traditions

Located in a central district of Dhahran on Saudi Arabia’s east coast, the new consulate contributes to its urban setting by interpreting regional building methods in a contemporary way. The organization of elements on the flat, rectangular site takes cues from traditional Saudi Arabian settlements, which feature tight clusters of structures along narrow streets. This arrangement protects the outdoor spaces from sun, wind, and, occasionally, sandstorms. The buildings comprising the new consulate are tightly clustered and define a series of outdoor spaces: a garden, the central event space, and recreational facilities for the consular community.

Dave Burk © SOM

The chancery, the consulate’s southernmost building, is also its tallest. Just north of the chancery is the community center, which contains recreational and meeting facilities for consulate employees and their families. North of the community center is a residential zone of low-rise buildings that complete the sequence of parallel structures. Putting the tallest building at the site’s southern edge maximizes shade in a region where temperatures often rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Dave Burk © SOM

Design that resonates with culture and place

Walls of vertically scalloped plaster surround the consulate atop a base of rusticated stone. Buildings throughout the campus are clad in a pale white limestone from the region, conveying a gravitas that befits their civic purpose. The chancery is the public face of the consulate, and it announces itself beyond the walls as a place of importance. The building’s most distinctive element is its diagrid structure—a framework of diagonally intersecting columns. Elaborate, light-diffusing screens echoing mashrabiyas, or traditional carved-wood screens, are set within the structure’s diamond-shaped openings. These features establish the image of the consulate from the street—an image that resonates with regional building traditions.

Dave Burk © SOM

Inside the chancery, between the diagrids, is a large gallery space in which the main stairway seems to float. Completely column-free, it is supported at the bottom step and at the landing. Its elegant geometry makes moving up or down feel ceremonial. The cascading stair adds to the feeling of connectedness, its landings doubling as informal meeting places. At the center of the consulate, the main outdoor event space provides tables and chairs set among the palms. Suited to large events and ceremonies, this shaded place of refuge evokes the traditional courtyards of the region’s architecture. Its rows of palm trees emerge from a “carpet” of granite pavers to form a protective canopy, crowning the outdoor room with foliage. 

Dave Burk © SOM

In moving from the old consulate to this new technological marvel, we are mirroring what is happening in Saudi Arabia. There’s a youthful population and a lot of optimism. The country is opening up in significant ways. As Saudi Arabia moves toward an exciting future, so are we.


Responding to environmental cues

The consulate’s most important environmental features are embedded in its architecture. Light-colored outside walls reflect solar energy and reduce the urban heat island effect. The massing and positioning of the buildings minimize solar heat gain and lessen the need for air conditioning. Deeply recessed windows, high-performance glazing, and internal and external shading devices also reduce heat gain. Wall and ceiling insulation provides additional thermal comfort. A digital management system that dims LED fixtures in response to changes in daylight and building occupancy minimizes the demand for electricity. 

Dave Burk © SOM

On the southern facade of the community center, an array of thirteen wind towers has been integrated into the design. The towers capture breezes at the roof of the building and guide the air through water misters, producing cooling through evaporation. The cooled air is delivered from the base of the wind towers to the event space. A canopy over the space helps hold the cooled air near the ground.

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