Architecture doesn’t always exist to push the boundaries. Sometimes a building is just an enclosure, a pragmatic form undefined by the activities within. Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) has never subscribed to the cult of quiet functionalism – the more complex a building’s use, the more radical the form. Perhaps that’s why Riyadh’s new King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KASPSARC) is such a dramatic and radical statement, even by the high standards of the studio.

KAPSARC’s brief is as a desert laboratory, a place where the vested interests of the petrochemical industry can take a long, hard look at where their industry is going and what it has done – one of the research briefs is ‘studying the technological, economic and environmental impacts of energy’. Perhaps as an indicator of things to come, ZHA has designed the structure to make minimal energy demands in a region renowned for its extreme climate.

Riyadh’s new King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Photography: Hufton + Crow

Focused on a central research building, with angular prows that jut out across the landscaping, the architecture combines structural boldness with complex patterns on the walls and ceilings, giving the long Islamic tradition of geometric form a literal twist. The modular construction allows for future expansion, while covered outdoor circulation areas help mitigate the effects of solar radiation.

Perhaps most notably, the building’s musalla (the open space outside a mosque) is the country’s very first prayer space to be designed by a woman. Proof that Zaha Hadid is still having a posthumous influence on design.