A Kinetic Canopy For Filtering The Sun’s Rays

The man behind the famous Hoberman sphere creates a responsive architectural shell for a spa in Riyadh.

You know how you’re watching The Travel Channel, and you get sucked into some top 10 list of hotel spas around the world (that’s actually an all-day marathon of top 10 hotel spa programming), and you wonder if you could possibly ever afford that decadence? That feeling is only about to get worse, because a pair of luxurious spas in Riyadh will soon put to shame your dreams of hot-stone massages in some nicely tiled room.


The KAFD Portal Spas, by the architectural firm WORKSBUREAU, are a duo of diaphanous, polygonal structures–one for men, one for women–that are going to raise the bar on decadence. Because between services, pampered patrons will make their way through meadowlike gardens growing within the building–a three-story tower of life within a massive, light-flooded atrium. Indeed, while they’re called “spas,” the buildings may be the most striking greenhouses you’ve ever seen.

A large part of what makes the effect possible is an outer shell fitted with Tessellate panels, a technology created by Chuck Hoberman. They’re built from four layers of perforated titanium, two of which are kinetic, driven by small linear motors. “As the layers overlap, the result is a kaleidoscopic visual display of patterns aligning and then diverging into a fine, light-diffusing mesh,” Hoberman tells Co.Design. “In the extreme climate of Saudi Arabia, with its incandescent solar intensity, the screens will allow a dappled, softened light–like that of a forest canopy– to diffuse into the spaces during the day.”

The result is a greenhouse that isn’t completely blinding and stifling by noon. The architecture itself allows the perfect titration of light throughout the day and the opportunity for more privacy at night. And since the panels are technically mesh, with no glass or plastic filling its holes, the Tessallate panels double as a ventilation system, too (though technically, a glazed facade sits inside the panels, no doubt keeping the sand and bugs outside the spa).

Construction on the KAFD Portal Spas will break ground in 2014. And while that might feel like a long time off to you, to your savings account it’s about 20 years too soon.

See more on the project here.
See more on Tessellate here.

Tessellate technology: Adaptive Building Initiative
Manufacturer: A. Zahner Company

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.