The Botanical Gardens

There are over 2,500 Botanical Gardens around the world. Some successful; some less so. Many are modelled on the traditional format of a collection of plants drawn together from the principal climatic zones of the world.

We feel that the King Abdullah International Gardens scheme presents an opportunity to explore and explain the extraordinary changes that continue to occur in the world’s ecosystems, culminating in an explanation of the choices available to us and a celebration of the wealth of the desert ecotope.

In the fast-moving, highly mobile society of the 21st century, we question the need for yet another globallybased botanical collection in another city, however well presented. We would argue that a tropical rainforest is best explained by means other than creating a representation of Central Belize in Saudi Arabia. In an age of modern air travel, visitors can see a genuine rain forest within 4 or 5 hours flying time of Riyadh, and it would be a forest in all its glory, with the creatures and tribes that make its so extraordinary a community.

Given this view, we wanted to explore a subtly different approach to the core exhibit…the Botanical Garden. We wanted to use this opportunity to explain the process of change that our precious planet continues to move through. To do this, we imagine ourselves standing on this precise spot through the history of time, returning to the origins of life as we understand it, exploring, demonstrating and portraying the great paleobotanical ages that have swept across this land…showing our visitors the extraordinary plants and physical features of this precise place beginning with the Devonian era, with the tectonic plates of the earth still shifting and the continents moving through the tropics like vast, floating islands, developing ecosystems that responded to the climatic conditions that prevailed at the time. We propose to record, explore and explain the great ages that have followed these origins: the Carboniferous, followed by the Jurassic, the Cretacious, the Cenozoic and the Pliocene, concluding in the present day, and the Garden of Choices. Explaining the exciting possibilities and forbidding threats that we now face, provided we confront the challenges we now know to be true.

We propose that the King Abdullah International Gardens should become a world leading focus of mankind’s understanding of the process, consequence and study of climate change, capturing and displaying extraordinary ecotopes from history and from the present day, and presenting the choices that are available to us. We believe that it is both ironic and entirely appropriate that this facility should be developed as a component of the capital city of the world’s principal producer of oil. The scheme is therefore a gift to a King, but a greater gift to mankind.

Our plan is to demonstrate these principles of sustainable development to the indigenous people of the region and the international visitors who will be drawn to this unique facility in the heart of the desert kingdom. In summary, we feel that the King Abdullah International Gardens should appeal to both the citizens of Saudi Arabia and international visitors on many levels. It should be exciting, interesting and a focus for thought. It should inform, entertain and educate. It should be unique, intriguing and appropriate for a modern capital city in the 21st century.

The Botanical Garden is proposed to be brought together as a crescent in a single, clearly understood building form, whose structure and fabric are capable of adaptation to the various environments that are proposed to be displayed within. In addition, there is scope for the research institutes, office accommodation, shops, restaurants, visitor facilities and theatre that will combine to provide the visitor experience we seek. The idea of a seed bank is not new, but Riyadh is an entirely logical location for the positioning of a specialist facility of this type, due primarily to the lack of humidity (and its attendant risk of germination) in this particular location. We see the seed bank as a component of the more serious ‘interpretive’ side of the exhibits.

The Wadi Garden aims to celebrate the extraordinary wealth of the current central Saudi Arabian ecotope, evolving into the ‘Garden of the Moon’ after nightfall.

Our experience in Riyadh confirms that this scheme will, from time to time, attract very considerable numbers of people from the city and beyond. With this in mind, it is assumed that afternoons, evenings and nighttime will attract visitors. Thus, lighting and good management become paramount, leading to the view that access to the scheme should be ticket-controlled, with the price of attendance going towards the continued and future running costs.

The Scientific Gardens

Our aim is that the Scientific Gardens should be fun, user friendly and should function as core components of the ‘entertainment’ programme, with access to all and children’s play (and therefore learning) knitted into the more adult experiences. This area of the scheme is generally located to the south west of the core Botanical Gardens structure, and will include the following:


The Water Gardens

An exploration of water in all its forms, from ice to snow, to water itself and then to steam. The visitor will be able to explore and enjoy this most precious resource in the understanding that all they see will have been harvested from the natural environment.


The Physic Garden

A classic garden brought up to date and interpreted through the power of Islamic geometry. The aim will be to provide a walled enclosure with displays that interpret the extraordinary range of medicinal applications discovered in the plant world through the ages, with specific reference to the teachings of the Bedouin tribes.


The Aviary

Rather that confining exotic birds in cages, this free-flight facility will allow a vast range of exotic species to be displayed and interpreted. The key message will be to convey the extraordinary fact that an area the size of the city of Riyadh is lost every four days through felling and clearance of the rain forests around the world. Our scheme will offer a fragment of the area being lost, yet will demonstrate the remarkable palette of plants, flora and fauna that exist there.


The Maze Garden

Offers a safe, well-supervised element that is fun, exciting and rewarding. Instead of the traditional hedges, we propose to ‘carve’ a low, walled maze from the living rock, ensuring that the exhibit is robust enough to avoid constant maintenance, yet bound into the theme of the overall scheme.

The Garden of Light and Sound

For this exhibit we expect to see the degree of visitor use increase in the evenings, as it offers an intriguing variation on the theme of the walled garden – a secret place that is only explained by entering the garden.

The Grotto

This is proposed as a secret extension of the central promenade, a magical place formed in the great tradition of grotto building, yet revealing the theme of water storage that is so critical to the scheme.

Passive resources

The scheme should offer many forms of recreation and education to many people. In the end, the educational element should be interesting and subliminal, rather than pompous and high-handed. Thus the scheme should offer simple, passive pleasures in addition to the core programme. In the Riyadh context, these include walking, seating, picnicking and play; all in a safe, controlled environment that is simply presented, beautiful and appropriate.

The cliff walk, watch towers, seating and picnic sites relate to the visitor parking facilities and are planned to support the more specific interpretive programme. The Gathering Plaza is presented as the frontage to the scheme based on our collective experience and can be increased if 10 hectares is considered to be a paramount requirement. Equally, the space can be accommodated in 3 alternative locations without disruption to the core proposals.