Health Science and Research Campus




Nora Abdulrahman University for Women

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) is a world class university campus for 40,000 full-time undergraduate women. At 2,000 acres (800 hectares) and 30 million total square feet, PNU is the largest facility of its kind in the world, symbolizing that education, creativity and innovation are fundamental to building a better society. The design challenge was to respond to culture, context and region and create a sense of place and sanctuary for women seeking higher education while bringing 21st century education and building technology to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. 

The Master Plan

This linear commons, at approximately 3 kilometers long, is equal to the length of New York City’s Central Park. The individual colleges are organized around intimate courtyards and significant common buildings (such as libraries, student unions, dining halls and grand lecture rooms.) Prayer halls are dispersed throughout the academic core. Gateways and portals lead into the central commons and the hospital from an elevated Automated People Mover (APM) that surrounds the academic core. Recreational and K-12 facilities are located outside of the academic core in close proximity to residential areas. 


The cultural requirements surrounding the separation of sexes is a central tenet of the design. Within the academic core, only the hospital and research components are co-ed. Traditional Islamic architectural screen elements (mashrabiy’yah) not only provide an outer layer of shade and protection from the sun but also allow women visual access to exterior spaces without being viewed. The arid conditions and intense heat of the region promoted innovative sustainable concepts including solar power, water re-use, regional planting, and wind towers that naturally cool outdoor courtyards. The campus is remarkable not only for its size and speed of design, but is exemplary in that all major buildings are pursuing LEED certification.


The Health Sciences and Research Campus 

The Health Sciences campus provides female students at PNU a diverse field of educational opportunities for those interested in the medical field. The campus includes individual professional Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Clinical Skills, Applied Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, and Basic Sciences in addition to a Research Center and a Student Amenities building. Student Amenities space is the social hub shared by all the schools and is a place of engagement for students, faculty, administration and researchers alike. The built up area comprises approximately 2.5M square feet about 20% of the entire educational facilities at PNU. 


Overall the architecture at PNU explores ideas of separation, threshold, transparency, pattern, and sequence and makes metaphor between the concept of the building screen and the women’s veil, the symbolic, visible indication of the transition from childhood to womanhood. As part of the formal sequence through the campus, young female students cross a clear threshold between mixed-gender public spaces and private places for women, establishing the academic core as a place not only of learning but as a symbolic unveiling of opportunity. 

The details are a narrative of culture, tradition, religious beliefs, civic space and environmental response.

The Health Sciences and Research Campus component,

by Allison Grace Williams FAIA while Design Principal with Perkins+Will