Rising out of the desert landscape of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia like a giant insect, Zaha Hadid Architects' unusual KAPSARC (King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre) is a non-profit institution tasked with researching more efficient uses of energy. Fittingly, the building minimizes its own energy use with solar power, water recycling and passive cooling systems.

KAPSARC measures a total floorspace of 70,000 sq m (753,473 sq ft), spread over five buildings: the Energy Knowledge Centre, Energy Computer Centre, Conference Centre, Research Library, and finally the Musalla, a place for prayer.

With its sunlight-reflecting bright white facade and hexagonal prismatic honeycomb structure (photographed here by longtime Zaha Hadid collaborator Hufton+Crow), KAPSARC's form is clearly defined by the harsh desert conditions that surround it. Its layout is designed to block the sun's harshest rays, while remaining open to northern and westerly winds.

The buildings are interconnected and arranged around a large central courtyard that's shaded with canopies. That said, despite the careful layout and shading, underground passages are still made available for the hottest months of the year.

KAPSARC is Zaha Hadid Architects' first project to be awarded LEED Platinum (a leading green building standard). The firm isn't really known for its sustainability, but takes significant steps to reduce energy usage here.

The prevailing wind is channelled by "wind catchers" integrated into the roof on the southern sides of each courtyard area for passive cooling. Potable water is recycled and reused on-site, and 100 percent of irrigation water is derived from non-potable sources. A solar power array is installed on the roof of the south-facing Conference Centre that has a capacity of 5,000MWh/year.

Almost all of the wood used during construction was certified sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), while 40 percent of construction materials were sourced from within 500 miles (804 km). A large amount of waste was diverted from the landfill and 30 percent of the materials used include recycled content.

KAPSARC recently opened to the public and has been named Saudi Arabia's smartest building by the Honeywell Smart Building Awards program, which awards scores on environmental sustainability, safety, and productivity.

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