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Public Works: Greening the Subway in Saudi Arabia

The designers of a planned subway station for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia want to bring some green to the desert.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

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Image courtesy Snohetta.

The decision to construct an extensive subway system must have been a relief to many in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a city of five million people where the testosterone-fuelled traffic (women are not legally permitted to drive) resembles a NASCAR race. It’s ill-suited to cyclists, pedestrians, or efficient surface transit.

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Image courtesy Snohetta.

Norwegian firm Snohetta was recently selected as the designer for the downtown Qasr Al Hokm station, which will be one of the main hubs of the new system. In a nod to the city’s desert climate—hot, arid, and slightly more hospitable than the surface of the moon—the design takes its cue from a traditional oasis.

The above-ground portion of the station resembles a stainless steel bowl, which provides shade while allowing light into the interior through a circular opening. Two main entrances are connected by palm trees and irrigation channels, oriented in the direction of the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

Below, the main concourse includes shops and seating areas around a central garden, along with escalators to the lower platforms. This area is lit not just by natural light from above but by interior and exterior reflection off the surface of the bowl.

The project is expected to be completed by 2016.

Whether Toronto will build more subways (that is, after the Spadina-line extension to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre is finished) is uncertain. If we do, we won’t have Saudi petro-cash to pour into them. Still, a little bit of green might be worth considering.

Hat tip to Inhabitat.


  • wklis

    Hmm. Let rich oil pay for a subway? Now, that’s a concept I agree with.

  • dsmithhfx

    Nice they’re getting a subway, but I think they have rather more urgent problems.

    • a

      yeah but they’d rather spend the $$$ on subways

  • Middle Easterner

    The irony is that being “green” in the middle of the desert requires massive amounts of energy. The Emirates and Saudi Arabia have huge carbon footprints.

    P.S. I hear the station at Riyadh’s Chop Chop Square has an executioners-only escalator.

    • Paul Kishimoto

      Think a little about what “irony” means. The carbon footprint of individuals in Riyadh can be partly attributed to the prior absence of public transport options.

  • junctionist

    Our subway stations should definitely be more attractive spaces. They’re used by hundreds of thousands of people every day and are critical infrastructure, yet they tend to look boring and cheap. Some look like public washrooms. That’s not acceptable. They’re important public spaces for the city like the streets, parks and public squares on the surface.

    We’re building some architecturally interesting stations as part of the Spadina line extension. I’ve advocated for unique design and art in the Eglinton Crosstown stations, and people joined from the Toronto Public Space Initiative and Torontonians in general. You can see it in the public feedback reports Metrolinx compiled. Unfortunately, the TTC’s renovations of existing stations in highly travelled areas are hit or miss. Victoria Park looks great, but Dufferin looks amateurish and cheap.