The Al-Rajhi Bank Headquarters, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has been named the winner of this year’s Emirates Glass LEAF Awards.

The futuristic bank headquarters, designed by Chicago-based Skidmore Owings & Merrill, features walls made of rammed earth – a traditional Middle Eastern way of creating walls by packing earth to create a high thermal environment, minimising the amount of energy required by the building.

The sustainable office development also collects water and distributes it to desert farmland.

The LEAF Awards panel said the project fascinated them, and labelled it as “simple yet so right”.

It is no surprise that the same design also took out the LEAF New Build of the Year (in Design).

LEAF Award compare and architect Maxwell Hutchinson says the project challenged the preconceived notion of office building topology – dividing its internalised office components vertically into three precincts and pulling them back together using open spaces.

“Judges were looking for a project underpinned by an innovative, original and cohesive philosophy,” Hutchinson says.

Other winning designs included London’s Young Vic Theatre by Haworth Tompkins Architects (Building of the Year – Built), the Water Cube National Swimming Centre in Bejing, China, designed by PTW Architects (Public Building of the Year – in Design) and the Kensington Oval in Barbados by Arup Associates (Structural Design of the Year).

The Setre Chapel in Kobe, Japan, designed by Ryuichi Ashizawa won the International Building of the Year and the New British Embassy in Yemen, by Design Engine Architects, was named as the Best Environmentally Sustainable Project of the Year.

“The Embassy building is a worthy winner, displaying an extremely sustainable approach, while practicing excellent design,” Hutchinson says.

“The judges were particularly impressed that working in Yemen, where money is often thrown at projects, the architect had chosen a simple idea and followed it through to the very end.”

The Qantas First Lounge in Sydney, by Woods Bagot received an award for its interior design and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas, US, won the New Build of the Year award for Steven Holl Architects.

Overall, the fourth LEAF Awards ceremony, and the first to be run as a standalone event, received entries from 130 companies.

The winners will be displayed at Leaf London, to be held next year from 22 to 24 January at the Royal Horticultural Hall, in conjunction with, which will include an exclusive site visit to the T5 Heathrow opening next year.

By Penny Jones