King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (Ithra)
An arena for culture and learning


Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture


The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also called Ithra which is Arabic for enrichment, is an initiative from the Saudi Aramco Oil Company to promote cultural development, knowledge and diversity in the Kingdom. Since opening in 2018, the center has provided the local population and visitors unprecedented access to a wide range of learning and cultural facilities open for everyone to use.

The center includes an auditorium hosting a wide range of events from opera, symphony concerts, musicals and lectures, a cinema, a library with over 315 000 books for all ages, a large exhibition hall, integrated art by local and international artists, as well as a museum and an archive connecting the vibrant cultural life of the center to the past and to the very roots of the society from which the center is conceived.

Technical details

Museum & Gallery, Library, Performance Space
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Aramco


Buro Happold

Theatre Projects

JML Consultants Water Feature Design SL

100 000m² building, 350 000 m² landscape,

LEED Gold 

Situated in the hot desert, the high-tech pebble composition emerges from its semi-arid landscape. Its main tower stretches 110 meters up in the sky, surrounded by additional pebbles. Three of them, the Library, the Auditorium and the Great Hall, seemingly rest on the ground. The fourth pebble, the Keystone, is suspended and fixed in its position, leaning against the tower to its left and the Library to the right. Each pebble is unique, both physically and programmatically.

Photo: Abdullah A Alshammary, AAS

Photo: King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

Like a roman arch, where the Keystone holds the construction together and prevents it from collapsing, the pebbles are seemingly frozen in time. Reflecting the idea of cultural interdependency, the arch-like formation reminds us that culture is not composed of singular, independent efforts but interconnected forces and ideas that work together to create a strong unity.

The concept of cultural interdependency is woven together by a timeline stretching from the past and into the present and future. The connection of these three times reflects how contemporary culture and the future must grow out of history and the past. The timeline is strongly embedded into the architectural expression itself, as the building is partially set deep into the bedrock, a symbol of the past, and partially stretching up toward the sky, a symbol of the future. The symbolism of the future is also echoed in the building's functionality and open program, which encourages equality and full access for all.

Photo: Frans Parthesius

The building’s façade embraces the concept of the future, with bent stainless steel tubes as single dimension lines resolving the organic shapes, echoing innovation and boldness. The reflective surfaces enhance the organic shapes of the pebbles and animates the buildings as the sun moves across the sky.

The futuristic metal stands in contrast to the ancient technique of rammed earth framing the Plaza, demonstrating how the past and present work together.

Photo: Ivan Brodey

Photo: Ivan Brodey

The library holds over 315 000 physical books for all ages in both Arabic and English and is one of the largest public libraries in the region. The library also hosts a series of learning programs, including workshops and book clubs for children. 

Photo: Ivan Brodey

The Great Hall is an up to 13 meter-tall, multipurpose space that hosts exhibitions and events. Pictured here is the Snøhetta designed "Edvard Munch: Landscapes of the Soul" exhibition.