A New Women's University Campus: A City within Riyadh

Michael Palmer
Managing Principal
Perkins+Will, Chicago

Designing a new university is in many ways like planning a new city. Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU), located in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a new, world-class university campus designed to accommodate 40,000 full-time, undergraduate women. At 2,000 acres (800 hectares) and 30 million-square-feet (2,800,000 square-meters) of built space, PNU is the largest facility of its kind in the world.
Located between the urban centers of Riyadh and the international airport, it is a major new urban “node” in the multi-centric city of Riyadh, and is a distinctive example for development of other global cities and their polycentric growth.

The vision for PNU was to create a sustainable community and learning environment in one of the most complex regions in the world – factoring in the socio-economic climate, the cultural traditions of Saudi women, and the process to meet a high-speed schedule. The resulting campus features the Academic Colleges, a Health Sciences district, research laboratories, a hospital, university library, administrative buildings, conference center, housing, K-12 schools for residents, and recreation centers, all in a previously unoccupied area.

This presentation will showcase how the project team addressed the project’s complex design challenges – most notably in regards to creating a sense of place for women and empowering them to be part of the future Saudi economy – through a highly-integrated design process. Design features highlighted will be exterior and interior design elements representing the women’s “journey”, pleasant public spaces with shading trees and pergolas, accommodation of modern educational needs, and separation of spaces for women and the general population. The session will also explore the university's connections with Riyadh's urban centers and institutions.