Competition: Al Wasil villas, Riyadh

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An open international ideas contest – featuring a €25,000 prize fund – is being held for two landmark new homes in the Al Wasil suburb of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Deadline: 13 March)

The ‘Riyadh Dream Villas’ competition – organised by Bologna-based Young Architects Competitions (YAC) in partnership with Jarir Development of Riyadh – invites architects and designers to draw up concepts for two new ‘immeasurably valuable’ homes on the outskirts of the Saudi capital.

The call for concepts aims to identify a residential unit which could be used for a planned villas development in the area. The competition comes almost three years after a raft of UK and other practices were tapped up to help design elements of a multi-billion pound entertainment ‘giga project’ near Riyadh.

Competition site: Riyadh Dream Villas

Competition site: Riyadh Dream Villas

According to the brief: ‘The cave, the hut, the palace. Throughout history, there have been countless facets of living. Yet, giving shape to human dwellings is always an ongoing task. This is because there is one possible house for each individual and because ultimately the house is the most effective map of our individuality.

‘The house is the membrane between the public context and the private space. It is the most personal belonging one could ever own. The house is about us, our dear ones, our habits and our passions.  For years, architecture has been levelling out according to standards and functions. Now, in the current society which has been hurt and changed by the pandemic, the concept of living is at the centre of the design once again.’

Al Wasil is the focus of a 1,400ha development project intended to deliver 50,000 residential units housing 300,000 residents. It is located within the picturesque Najd Plateau which forms the geographic centre of Saudi Arabia and includes many of its largest settlements including Riyadh.

Landmark developments in the area include the BIG-masterplanned Qiddiya – one of three ‘giga projects’ announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016 as part of Saudi Vision 2030. The initiative aims to diversify the economy beyond oil and meet the needs of the kingdom’s growing population which is 66 per cent under 35.

Competition site: Riyadh Dream Villas

Competition site: Riyadh Dream Villas

The call for concepts is the latest to be held by YAC which has previously recently held contests focussing on a new 3,000m2 hotel and visitor concept in Rovaniemi, Finland; the 35-hectare Marina di Loano in Italy; and a new headquarters for Italian fluid engineering specialists FITT in Vicenza, northeastern Italy.

The international jury includes the Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, Ben van Berkel of Netherlands-based UN Studio, the Italian architect Carlo Ratti, Eli Synnevåg from Snøhetta in Oslo, Lorenzo Boddi of BIG in Copenhagen, Nicola Scaranaro of Foster + Partners, and Benedetta Tagliabue of Miralles Tagliabue EMBT.

The overall winner, to be announced 2 May, will receive a €10,000 first prize while a second prize of €6,000, third prize of €4,000, and two special mentions each worth €2,500 will also be awarded.

Q&A with YAC

The competition organiser discusses its ambitions

Why are you holding an international competition for two new luxury houses for the in the Al Wasil community near Riyadh?

We have chosen to launch this new competition as we wanted to focus on accommodation. This is because, in our current society, the concept of living is at the centre of design once again. Our lives have been hurt and changed by the pandemic, therefore living in social isolation for a long time has aroused new needs and aspirations – such as a break from the busy lifestyle of the city and the rediscovery of the countryside.

What is your vision for future Riyadh Dream Villas, and what would you like to see in submissions to the competition?

We are open to any design that is sustainable, has a contemporary architectural language, is comfortable for those who will stay there, and, last but not least, stays within budget. Obviously, the designers will need to consider the local environment in order to design an accommodation that will fit with its surroundings.

What role do you see this competition playing in the development of new local, international and underrepresented architectural and design talents, and helping to address the underrepresentation and engagement of many communities in our interpretation of the built environment?

At YAC, we are constantly trying to offer interesting competitions for those wishing to participate. YAC aims to create a space for young architects, and we will keep aiming in that direction. Our competitions are highly suggestive, and this is because we want to inspire more and more designers to bring into play their own creativity and stimulate their imagination.

Competition site: Riyadh Dream Villas

Competition site: Riyadh Dream Villas

Are there any recent similar competitions or projects, either locally or internationally, which have delivered impressive results?

We recently launched a competition close to this one but with a different aim. The competition was called ‘Desert Accommodation’ and received many suggestive proposals from young designers. We hope this new competition will inspire even more professionals to imagine a structure that will resist and coexist with the desert.

How do you see YAC projects evolving in the future and what competitions will you hold next?

We do not know what our next competition will be. However, we will keep on providing excellent quality by offering competitions and being a bridge between world-renowned companies or organizations and young designers.

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