The Daring
Diagonal
Virtual
Museum

A division of the Center
for the Study of Diagonality
in World Culture

Daring Diagonal Virtual Museum
NATIONAL COMMERCIAL BANK, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
NATIONAL COMMERCIAL BANK
SOM Architects
1978-1983
Executed by:
Date:

Design studies for this triangular 27-story office building and bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia were started around 1978. It was developed during a period in which the triangle footprint fascinated architects around the world, including I. M. Pei, architect of the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Construction of the National Commercial Bank was completed in 1983.

Gordon Bunshaft of SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) was the project architect. Known for his bold forms, geometric ordering, and refined designs, Bunshaft created a towering iconic structure in a country of immense wealth that could afford this travertine-clad building in which a generous, even opulent amount of unoccupied open-air spaces are freely mixed with income-producing air-conditioned spaces. From the outside, the building looks elemental and monumentally simple but this belies the spatial and visual complexity inside the triangular envelope. Light is brought into the triangular volume through colossal openings that vertically interconnect the windowed courtyards.

There have been many triangular office buildings built since high-rise buildings were first constructed around the beginning of the 20th century. Most of these were designed not to create a triangular building but to squeeze as much rentable space as possible onto a site whose triangular shape was the result of a non-orthogonal street plan. The acute angle where the streets intersected was not, however, thoroughly mimicked in the shape of the building: that sharp corner was either blunted or rounded, unlike the sharp corners employed in the National Commercial Bank’s isosceles triangle. Here the chisel points are celebrated and become a distinguishing part of the design. Although all three acute angles are shown on the interior of the building on the banking floor, only one such angle is expressed on most of the upper floors. Mechanical shafts (triangular in plan) at the free ends of the chevron create right-angled ends to the office floors. The building won several awards from the American Institute of Architects.

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