Contract invited Pat Bosch of Perkins+Will to write a first-hand reflection—as a woman and as a designer—on her team’s work on the Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University, which is the largest university for women in the world.
With the design of Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, my colleagues and I from Perkins+Will had the opportunity to create and innovate as a means to both give back and to enhance women’s education in this part of the world. This became the driving force for our firm, our team, and certainly for some of us, as women. And this translated into a vision of community, innovation of learning environments, and sustainability in one of the fastest growing regions in the world. My involvement in this project allowed me to help further influence this growth and regional transformation.
One challenge was to develop a way to incorporate 21st-century education and building technologies into the culture, context, and region. We determined how to integrate all these criteria and create a sense of place and sanctuary for women seeking higher education.
The creative process involved in-depth analysis and a careful understanding of the given site, its context, and the transformation of a program within its boundaries. It was imperative to take into account the site characteristics of climate and culture, surroundings, heritage of materials, proportions, and urban significance. Security concerns and cultural constraints also affected the overall design of the learning environment.
The design became the result of all these prescribed restrictions, transcending style and image, yet still rooted in tradition. The arid conditions of the Saudi desert provided an opportunity for innovative sustainable ideas to be implemented. Solar power, water reuse, regional planting, and the use of local building materials are some of the many sustainable features of the design.
The abstraction and transformation of the regional architectural language allows for a deep sense of identity to emerge and celebrate heritage while providing visionary facilities. As a woman and as an architect committed to civic and social goals, this was a powerful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The project offered a unique chance for our team to grow professionally and personally.
We were able to create transformational,
21st-century buildings and interiors in which students and professors can live, learn, discover,
and heal. These students are women who will inspire the world through their sense of responsibility
to their university. The university’s modern, progressive spaces will, in turn, inspire beyond their boundaries and attract international talent—both educators and students.
Pat Bosch is design principal at the Miami office of Perkins+Will. She is internationally recognized for her design work specializing in higher education and K-12 schools, science and technology, corporate headquarters, and civic buildings.