Download E-Magazine

    Inside The Royal Diriyah Opera House in Riyadh

    Hayley Alexander

    Saudi Arabia’s first dedicated opera house opening soon

    In homage to the fusion of cultural magnificence and architectural brilliance, Riyadh have unveiled its pièce de résistance – The Royal Diriyah Opera House. Situated in the beating heart of Diriyah, the venerable 300-year-old quarters known as The City of Earth. 

    Rich in history, Diriyah is an opulent testament to Saudi heritage. Sprawling across 14 square kilometres, a stone’s throw from the heart of Riyadh, it is undergoing a transformative journey to create a global historic haven and unfurling an enchanting narrative that is aligned with the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision. A historic landmark, dating back to 1727, Diriyah has been reincarnated into a cultural centre adorned in authentic Najdi style – a palette of pale, sandy-hued mud-brick structures covered with intricate detailing along the cornices. An historic design gracefully coming to life anew in locations like Diriyah Gate and Bujairi Terrace. With At-Turaif as its UNESCO World Heritage gem, Diriyah will evolve into a community for over 100,000 residents, boasting a tapestry of museums, boutique and sustainablely led hotels and gastronomic wonders. The two-square-kilometre oasis of Wadi Hanifah alone already invites visitors to immerse themselves in Diriyahs unique beauty.

    Announced in December 2023 and scheduled to open in 2028, work has already begun on The Royal Diriyah Opera House. Designed by team Snøhetta the project is being undertaken in collaboration with the female run Syn Architects, a Riyadh-based firm, to ensure a nuanced local perspective has been incorporated into the design. Syn Architects’ Sara Alissa and Nojoud Alsudairi and their team infuses the project with a deep understanding of the region’s unique architectural heritage. 

    Alissa and Alsudairi’s creations are known for how they harmonise with nature, deriving aesthetics from contextual awareness, and expressing the inherent essence of raw materials. Beyond structures, it’s a narrative woven with eco-sensitivity, where each design is a dialogue between form and environment. In the hands of this duo, architecture transcends mere construction; it becomes an immersive experience, a celebration of the symbiosis between human ingenuity and the natural world. 

    The pair have worked on projects such as the Shamalat Cultural Centre where they took a visionary approach that ingeniously explored the interaction between storytelling and play through design. As a cultural hub, it invites visitors to actively engage with the past, present and future, fostering a dynamic and immersive experience. While their design for the  Almasar Mosque, in a homage to Najdi mosque architecture, was designed not only to revive its architectural purity but also to echo contemporary culture. While examining the site, the excavation work sparked in the architects the idea of repurposing materials, preserving the site’s memory in the construction process. The Royal Diriyah Opera House is a continuation of Syn Architect’s mission to incorprate Saudi hearitage into modern masterpieces. The goal – that the opera house become not just a building, but a design narrative woven into the very fabric of Diriyah’s centuries of history.

    A Design Inspired by Heritage and Nature

    Incorporating the region’s geometric forms, history and craft, the opera house appears as a cluster of buildings rising organically from the ground, showcasing the cracked earth of the Wadi riverbeds. This unique design approach not only reflects the natural evolution of the land but also creates open passages and shaded relief, providing a harmonious blend of cultural and recreational spaces.

    The Symphony Within

    Spread across 46,000 square metres, The Royal Diriyah Opera House is poised to become a cultural epicentre that will accommodate approximately 3,500 people across four distinctive venues. At its core lies an impressive 2000-seat opera theatre, a stage designed for grand productions and headline artists.

    Complementing this centrepiece are a 450-seat adaptable theatre and a 450-seat multipurpose theatre, offering intimate settings for smaller events, interactive programming, and rehearsals. A shaded rooftop amphitheatre also graces the complex, providing a unique outdoor performance space with a breathtaking view.

    Beyond the performance spaces, the project encompasses various facilities, including a visitor services pavilion, a café, and retail areas, creating an overarching holistic experience for visitors.

    A Cultural Oasis 

    The cluster of buildings not only opens access to the central boulevard and pedestrian-focused streets but is strategically oriented to create shaded outdoor zones, offering cool pockets away from the hot Saudi sun. This deliberate design choice gives the venue an added layer of consideration and thoughtfulness that goes beyond the thinking of more traditional performance venues.

    Furthermore, the design prioritises sustainability, with a focus on water conservation, efficient lighting, building orientation, and thermal comfort strategies. Endemic plant species are carefully selected to foster greater biodiversity, contributing to a nurtured and climate-specific ecosystem.

    A Collaborative Creative Journey

    The creation of The Royal Diriyah Opera House has become a collective endeavour. Local artists, including the renowned Maha Malluh, have left their mark on the project through captivating art installations, infusing the space with a sense of place and identity. The synergistic effort extends further with the involvement of a multitude of consultants, creating a rich tapestry of expertise that enriches every facet of the opera house.

    When the curtains rise on this architectural masterpiece, The Royal Diriyah Opera House will emerge as not just a venue for performances but as a living, breathing embodiment of Saudi Arabia’s deep and nuanced cultural heritage. 

    Sustainability and Innovation

    The Royal Diriyah Opera House is also a beacon of sustainability and innovation. The project has been designed to comply with the highest environmental regulations. It’s deliberate use of open spaces and natural lighting, coupled with a meticulous consideration of materials, aims to reduce unnecessary energy and water wastage. The commitment to sustainability extends to the reduction of embodied carbon in concrete and steel structures. In a nod to modern energy practices, the surface of the venue’s largest building’s roof has been designed to accommodate photovoltaic installations, contributing significantly to on-site or grid-wide clean energy production. Not to mention the radiant cooling, achieved through chilled ceiling panels and displacement ventilation. Both of which further enhances the project’s sustainability credentials. 

    Diriyah's Ancient Legacy Reimagined

    Located on the banks of the Wadi Hanifah valley, the Diriyah area serves as the ancient birthplace of the first Saudi state. Historically fostering oasis communities with a string of towns, hamlets and villages, the area is characterised by the vernacular architecture style known as Najdi. This architectural form, featuring almost entirely mud-brick structures, closely clustered to ensure a constant condition of shade, is an integral part of Diriyah’s identity.

    Today, as the Diriyah area undergoes a major transformation, The Royal Diriyah Opera House stands as a shining becon of this cultural renaissance. A symbol of this historic capital’s return into the Saudi spotlight.

    A Visionary Master Plan

    Thankfully the opera house is not an isolated project but part of a broader master plan to redevelop the whole Diriyah area into vibrant creative venues and bustling communities. The Royal Diriyah Opera House will become a tentpole architectural gem that will help transport Diriyah into its next evolutionary chapter.  Blending the region’s cultural heritage and vernacular architecture, it will naturally and seamlessly be integrated into the fabric of Diriyah’s history.

    This visionary approach to urban planning encapsulates the essence of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. Propelling Diriyah forward to become a global hub of culture and creativity. The Royal Diriyah Opera House, with its grandeur and cultural significance, will serve as a catalyst for the region’s dramatic reawakening.

    You May Also Like