Perkins+Will design director Pat Bosch won the bid, and the project became a personally transformative one. “Meeting such brave and bold women who were so determined to inspire change was very powerful,” she says.
“They propelled me to be equally forceful in telling their stories and memorializing their determination through space, design, and technology.”
The largest women’s university in the world – a 32 million-square-foot campus designed to host 60,000 students – is in Saudi Arabia.
It might seem strange for a country not exactly known for women’s rights to be home to such an institution (Saudi women only recently earned the right to drive but still need a man’s permission to make any major decisions, including leaving the country or even getting a passport) but the female leaders of the Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh hoped that building a center designed to empower young women might help shift societal norms. It was only fitting, then, for those leaders to choose a female architect to oversee the project.
The Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University in Saudi Arabia.
Bosch’s campus, which she completed in 2011, reflects the traditional culture in Saudi Arabia but with a slightly progressive twist. Most notably, the façades are designed with a system of mashrabiya screens that in traditional Middle Eastern buildings serve to protect the interiors from the sun and the heat. Here, they also afford students a sense of freedom: While women in Saudi Arabia can be unveiled in their private homes, they must cover up in public.
Since men are not allowed on PNU’s campus, women are free to take off their veils – as long as there’s no chance a man might see them. To achieve that, Bosch designed the mashrabiya to be denser and more opaque toward the exterior of the campus – to protect from prying eyes – and progressively thinner as students move toward private zones of central campus. This allows for plenty of natural light in indoor learning spaces and in large, airy settings where students can congregate and socialize, unveiled.
Mashrabiya screens at PNU.
Bosch also had to take the desert climate into consideration and turned to traditional Middle Eastern techniques to do so. She used passive techniques, like cooling towers with minimal evaporation, as a way to limit water usage; horizontal mashrabiya, meanwhile, allow for cross breezes. She also chose landscaping that required little irrigation. Then, to mitigate the heat island effect – in which certain areas retain more heat than surrounding areas – among the outdoor walkways, she added colonnades, overhangs, and “eyebrow” dormers. In all, Bosch reduced energy consumption by 27 percent through these systems, which garnered the campus LEED certification.
The PNU project wasn’t Bosch’s first time taking design cues from a community at large. Before embarking on a redesign of the Greater Accra Regional Hospital at Ridge in Ghana, Africa’s largest women and children’s hospital, Bosch began her research at the public market. “I spent hours walking through its narrow paths, paying close attention to conversations, behaviors, and smells,” she says. Accra, she learned, is very much centered around family; she wanted her design to reflect that.
She enlarged indoor waiting rooms, created outdoor spaces in which family members could congregate, and enabled pedestrian access to nearby neighborhoods, making it easier for family to visit patients. Taking inspiration from the mother-and-child relationship, she shrouded the exterior in textured wood and metal screens inspired by traditional kente cloth, which is often used to swaddle and carry infants.
But, of course, the hospital needed to be designed for the staff, too. On the first day she visited the original Victorian-era hospital, Bosch noticed the perfectly tailored, regal uniforms of the nurses, dazzling in sharp green and crisp white. “They almost seemed like they walked right out of a painting,” notes Bosch. She asked an administrator whether their pristine appearance was typical or if it was a special display for the visitors. “He softly explained that these women have a tremendous pride in their vocation.
Caring for the uniforms with such detail reflected the same respect they have for their hospital, their patients, and their job,” she says. “The building needed to reflect that pride, that honor, and that regal sense of purpose and commitment these women have to their community.” With those values in mind, Bosch created a grand entrance using large, geometric blocks that protrude toward the street, anchored by a massive concrete ramp.
Bosch’s Greater Accra Regional Hospital.
As with the PNU project, Bosch also took into great account the physicality of the site, with the goal of proposing solutions that would work for the long-term benefit of the hospital. Since Accra’s electricity can be erratic, she created a low-energy building that uses such sustainable methods as passively cooled hallways, naturally ventilated public areas, and solar water heating. She connected the entire hospital by ramps so that patients can be transported without elevators, if necessary. Additionally, she incorporated natural light into as many spaces as possible, with the aim of creating a more healing environment.
While Bosch has had the opportunity to work on many civic buildings in her adopted hometown of Miami, like the annex to Miami Beach’s City Hall, the University of Miami’s School of Education, and Miami’s Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Advanced Pediatric Care Pavilion, she’s hoping to apply her influential approach to even more, both at home and abroad, like affordable housing or a climate change research facility. No matter the project, though, Bosch maintains her design mentality can be reduced to a very simple concept.
“I believe one should never view a school as simply a classroom. Similarly, a dwelling is not just a shelter, and a hospital is not just for the sick,” she says. “The key to utilizing design and architecture as a powerful, transformative catalyst for a community is to see beyond a building’s function and create a vehicle for optimism, vision, and hope.”