The Atolls

How can we activate an overlooked street and create an identity for a fast-growing district?

Understanding the need of commercial logics and yet reacting to globalized formal typologies, this design proposal for the Squares-Al Sahil retail and leisure complex is inspired by the convergence of the stunning desert dunes with the sea landscape of the Persian Gulf. Located in the city of Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia, the 19,500 sqm project is made of an organic composition of inviting curved buildings with permeable public spaces in between that foster vibrant social interactions at the urban level and create entertaining experiences underneath a pattern-shaped textile canopy. Such design strategy and language also resonate well with the landscape characteristics of the nearby Khobar Corniche, thus fostering a close connection between the two destinations – from a physical as well as perceptual points of view.

The morphology of the individual buildings along with their spatial integration within the surrounding context help defining a clear and yet gentle identity for the project.

Typology: Retail
Location: Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia
Year: 2021
Site area: 19,500 sqm
Client: Al Salimi
Status: International competition
Design team: Stefano Andreani, Mirko Billi
Collaborators: Isa He, Stella Dwifaradewi


The generous curved spaces in between the buildings facing the main street strategically transforms the boulevard into an inviting, open and dynamic environment and help promote cultural change throughout the whole city.

The morphology of the individual structures and their spatial integration within the surrounding context, along with the careful choice of local materials and modern sustainability solutions, all define a clear albeit gentle identity for the project. If the curved signs are harmonious and foster openness, two tall spiralling structures grab the attention of users and serve as beacons of the whole intervention.  The tensile canopy visually connects all the buildings together and at the same time offers shading to protect from the harsh sunlight. Its design is reminiscent of sea waves or else will spark the imagination of users and passerby reminding of sand dunes. A series of large terraces placed at different heights offer stunning views to the waterfront and the Arabic Gulf sea landscape. These terraces are placed around the central plaza – the hearth of The Atolls that is an expression of the dynamic character of the whole project.


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