Heatherwick set to turn Saudi Arabian desalination plant into museum

View of Jeddah Central Museum by Heatherwick

British designer Thomas Heatherwick‘s studio is designing the Jeddah Central Museum in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which will be located in a former desalination plant by the Red Sea.

Part of a new waterfront district with a focus on art and craftsmanship, the Jeddah Central Museum will see Heatherwick convert the desalination plant into a souk – a marketplace – for makers.

Its main turbine hall will be converted into a “dramatic” exhibition space.

Museum to be “new home for craft, making and production”

Renders of the museum show an elongated building covered in undulating silver cladding alongside a large, semi-covered market. The silver wrap is part of a low-carbon strategy and was designed to reflect the sun.

“Active and passive low carbon strategies are being applied to all the main structures on the site,” Heatherwick partner and group leader Mat Cash told Dezeen.

“Each of them will have high levels of insulation and solar shading, using a metal wrap to reflect the sun and creating an internal jacket to keep them cool inside.”

Jeddah Central Museum by the Red Sea
The museum will be located in a former desalination plant

The design for the 257,500-square-metre project aims to rejuvenate the industrial area of the city. It will have production spaces such as ateliers and studios and provide a program of public exhibitions and large-scale commissions.

Inside, the buildings will be designed to retain the site’s industrial feel.

“The museum will play a major role in the city’s transformation from its fossil fuel past to a new economy focused around creativity, helping to release the potential of its young population,” said Cash.

“The project takes a disused desalination plant that people in Jeddah have always viewed from afar and turns it into a new home for craft, making and production,” he added.

“Somewhere everyone in Jeddah can use and explore.”

Project is “creative opportunity to do something extraordinary”

Heatherwick is the latest British studio to work in Saudi Arabia, which is facing criticism for its human rights record connected to the controversial Neom scheme.

“We talk as a studio about all the places where we work and consider every project on a case-by-case basis,” Cash said.

“What drives our decision to take on a project is the creative opportunity to do something extraordinary and have the biggest possible impact on people and the city.”

The museum is part of a new development in the centre of Jeddah, which will cover 5.7 million square metres and have a focus on entertainment, sport, tourism, culture and commerce as well as residential amenities. The project is still at an early stage and has not yet broken ground.

In February, UK architecture and engineering studio Atkins was appointed the delivery partner for megacity The Line, while Foster + Partners is set to create the country’s King Salman International Airport.

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