The Diplomatic Quarters in Riyadh. A Western-shaped neighborhood in an Islamic city.


  • Margarita Gonzalez Cardenas Prince Sultan University



Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a complex relatively young city. One of its major districts was built ex-novo only 30 years ago as part of a governmental input to define Riyadh as capital of the Kingdom. Albert Speer III and Partners thus designed the Diplomatic Quarters (DQ) as an enclave built in a major spot on the Valley Hanifa, nearby the first Riyadh settlement called Al Dirriyah. The urban landscape has been recognized for being well integrated with both the valley and the deserted landscape. In addition, the DQ’s major core could be considered a prototype of the New Urbanism Theory. The DQ was designed to be accessible to all citizens, but early 2000 terrorist attacks forced the DQ management to close its fences and made this place only accessible for tenants and temporary visitors. However, it has become a major district for scholars to define Riyadhs’ identity. 

Through a design process analysis, and primary observation methodologies, this paper aims to answer the following questions: why is the DQ becoming an identity spot for scholars and citizens? How is this space been interpreted by scholars to make it part of Riyadh’s identity discourse? How has this space been preserved and used by its inhabitants, both locals and foreigners? 

The paper analyses the DQ’s urban planning by highlighting the elements that leads to the interpretation of identity, such as landscape integration, district configuration or the Major Core’s urban spaces and typologies. The paper will question the validity of the identity discourse, and will show the DQ challenges facing Riyadh’s conservative society. Finally, this paper expects to raise awareness on the need to rethink from a historical perspective a main district in one of the fastest growing cities in the world. 


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How to Cite

Cardenas, M. G. (2016). The Diplomatic Quarters in Riyadh. A Western-shaped neighborhood in an Islamic city. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(1), 393–404.