Photo Courtesy of Fahad Al Swailem
Location: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Contractor: Mohammed bin Laden
Red Palace:A Symbol of Politics and Early Modernization in Saudi Arabia
The Commissioning of the Red Palace
After the construction of Al-Murabba Palace and administrative complex in 1939, King Abdulaziz commissioned Mohammed bin Laden to build what would be called the Red Palace near the complex for his son, King Saud. King Abdulaziz’s vision for the Red Palace was heavily influenced by his first trip outside Saudi Arabia, which was to Egypt during the early 1940s.
Cairo impressed the King with its streets, squares, and buildings, and motivated him to modernize Saudi’s capital, Riyadh. The Red Palace would go on to be the first concrete building in Riyadh. King Abdulaziz placed the Red Palace in the center of Futah Park. There, it is surrounded by wide open space, allowing it to be visible from all areas. The largesse of the Red Palace made a bold statement when it was built in 1942. Not only did it exude power, but it established the King’s vision going forward for more expansive and modern architectural designs.
Red Palace Architectural Features
Unlike the Najdi Al-Murabba Palace, the Red Palace’s style is clearly influenced by mid century Neo-Classical architecture. It represents a Saudi style reinterpretation of institutional buildings around the world, such as the White House in the United States, and the Reichstag in Germany.
It features exceptional interior design, and unique engravings. It sports coffered ceilings and wood paneling. But it also was a formidable work of architecture in terms of the distribution of space. In addition to being a work of beauty, it featured new technology, like ceiling fans, as well as a rare skylight scheme.
Abdulla Al-Yami describes in his book, “The Red Palace” how the palace was built with electric elevators as well as staircases that connect the floors.
Political Activities within the Red Palace
Initially upon its completion, it served as an institutional building hosting important events. This role makes it unique historically, in that this building witnessed many historic decisions, such as when France and Britain severed ties with Saudi in 1956, stopping oil exports. Many decisions that have had global impact have happened within the walls of the Red Palace, as it has hosted several kinds and heads of state and government, including, Nasser, Shukri al-Quwatli, Anwar Sadat, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Until 1988, the Red Palace continued to serve as the headquarters of the Saudi Council of Ministers. Later, the Red Palace became the headquarters of the Court of Grievances. Currently it is used for temporary exhibitions.