SAUDI ARABIA, 1975-1978

Click on the image to enlarge.

Sheik Halim
Drawing by Curtis, 1978.
In 1975, Curtis and Davis Architects and Planners reached its twenty-ninth year of operation. The firm could point to its work in twenty-six states and nine foreign countries. The office corridors contained over 100 awards for architectural excellence. Work of the firm had been published in every professional publication in the U.S. and in numerous foreign publications. In three instances, the entire issue of a magazine had been devoted to the firm and work that had been produced from its offices in New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles, and London.

The most outstanding completed projects of the firm were as follows: the Teaching Hospital for the Free University of Berlin, largest hospital in Europe; the Forrestal Building for the Department of Defense, largest building in Washington, next to the Pentagon, and the first modern building to be approved by the Fine Arts Commission; the New Orleans Rivergate Convention Center, longest span pre-stressed post-tensioned concrete barrel-vault roof ever built; Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the first prison ever designed to house a rehabilitation program; and the Fox Lake Correctional Institution in Wisconsin, first campus-type corrections center ever built. These two prisons were the first of the more than seventy-five such correctional projects from the Curtis and Davis drawing boards, more than all other architectural firms combined.

The firm had pioneered the use of interstitial space for hospitals and with the New Orleans Public Library had coined the phrase "Life Cycle Costing." A new structural system was invented for an office building for IBM in Pittsburgh. The construction of the main facility of the U.S. Department of Health Ambulatory Care Center for Heart and Cancer Research in Bethesda, Maryland was nearing completion, and the Louisiana Superdome, largest building ever built, a project that had taken eight years to create, had just been opened. I stood on the threshold of a new direction.

In 1974-75, a recession in the building industry occurred in the U.S., and many smaller firms went out of business. New York banks would not lend money to contractors and architects, and the larger firms, wise in fiscal matters, were closing their offices in New York, the area hardest hit.

Curtis and Davis decided to keep open its office in New York and borrowed its operating funds from banks in New Orleans and with careless abandon funneled the funds to New York. After lengthy discussions on the rather bleak situation, the firm decided to look to Saudi Arabia. I headed for Riyadh on 16 September 1975. Between 1975 and 1978, Saudi Arabia was a country going through the agony of becoming "modern."

The last time I was there in 1981, I found that conditions had improved a great deal. A new French-designed telephone system that almost worked had been installed. A contract had been let for garbage and trash collection, and the cities were much cleaner. Saudi airline reservations had become computerized, and new airports for Riyadh and Jiddah, much larger than any in the U.S., were nearing completion. Citibank had been nationalized and occupied a new modern building with working elevators. Many streets had been built, others paved, and numerous "flyovers" or overpasses were installed. Several new hotels opened, even a Marriott, so that the Intercontinental wasn't the only place to stay.


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