Until now, Riyadh’s verdant past was confined to the pages of textbooks. Today, that history is coming alive. In 2006, the city sponsored an international competition to design a botanical garden as a gift to Saudi Arabia’s recently-anointed leader, King Abdullah. The winning design, a joint venture from British architecture and engineering firms Barton Willmore and Buro Happold, will explore the region’s plant life through the ages, taking visitors on a walk millions of years back in time.
Set to open in 2011, the ambitious King Abdullah International Botanical Gardens will attempt to display the diverse array of the region’s plant species throughout the past 400 million years in its “paleobotanic” greenhouse. And, as if helping visitors peer into the past isn’t enough of a challenge, the garden will also explore the land’s potential future. The designers hope to educate visitors about the process and consequences of natural-resource depletion and human-wrought climate change as well as the benefits of
preserving Earth’s bounty.
At the heart of the $200-million project is what will be the largest greenhouse in the world. Spanning 20 acres and shaped like two interlocking crescents—a symbol of Muslim faith—the garden will lead visitors through six geological time periods, starting with the Devonian, when life on land was just developing, and ending with the Pliocene, when the Arabian Peninsula was brimming with dense grasslands and gushing rivers. Extinct flora—from the horsetail tree to the leafless Rhynia to the Medullosa shrub—will be represented with models and closely related modern species. (Outside the greenhouse, guests can view a smattering of exhibits, fountain areas and tree mazes at the scientific, “wadi” and water gardens.)single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.