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King Faisal Military Cantonment, Khamis Mushayt

The town of Khamis Mushayt is situated less than eighty miles from the border with Yemen and about sixty miles east of the Red Sea’s coast in southwestern Saudi Arabia in the rugged highlands of the province of Asir. The town lies at six thousand two hundred feet above sea level. Spring rains bring most of the annual rainfall that averages only about eight inches a year. A twelve-year record of temperatures showed a maximum of 81°F and a minimum of 41°F.

The inaccessibility of the site presented the first challenge in developing the cantonment. No road led from the town to the location of the construction, about ten miles away. The airport, about seven miles away, had a 10,000-foot runway and provided the only convenient arrival point for visitors. Air travel from Jiddah took one hour, from Riyadh an hour and a half. Overland travel took a minimum of four days and traversed country that remained virtually unmapped; not even a rail line ran there. The first construction contract therefore went to a Saudi contractor, Bin Ladin, to construct a road between the local airfield and the construction site. Work began on Access Road A in August 1966 and lasted until March 1967.

A scarcity of water created the second problem. No one had identified an adequate source of water to supply the cantonment. Finding a sufficient water supply and transporting it to the site involved several million dollars of additional expense. Just as the designers had to compensate for inaccessibility and a lack of water, they had to adjust to unfamiliar cultural factors in the design of the cantonment. Although two-story construction was less expensive, MODA preferred single-story structures because of earthquakes. After much vacillation, they chose one-story construction except for the enlisted men’s barracks. The Saudi practice of building high walls around living quarters added to the expense of construction. Initial design had failed to take this into account in the cost estimates.

The architect-engineers preparing the designs incorporated the traditional Saudi architectural practice of orienting buildings on an east-west axis to mitigate the most severe effects of solar heating. Surrounding walls protected buildings from direct radiant heat when the sun was at low angles. Roof insulation and large overhangs to shade the sides of buildings provided protection from the sun at higher angles. Ventilation openings high in walls promoted and enhanced the natural flow of air for cooling. Designers included courtyards, trees, water pools, and fountains to minimize the heat and dust. The architect-engineers anticipated that these design features would apply to all three cantonments, with appropriate adaptations. Even for Khamis Mushayt, where extremes of heat or cold were uncommon, designers followed these design guidelines, using the east-west orientation and locating the latrines on the west end of buildings to reduce heat transfer to the interior. Family quarters had no windows on the east or west sides.

As initially designed, the Khamis Mushayt cantonment covered approximately three thousand acres and included over three hundred buildings to accommodate one army combat brigade with a projected size of 6,484 officers and enlisted men. Conscious of Saudi family mores, the engineers designed each house with segregated quarters for men and women. Schools were likewise segregated, with one for one hundred eighty females and a second for three hundred sixty males. Designers envisioned the space as a pedestrian community, so they avoided making walkways cross major traffic arteries and placed housing a maximum of eight hundred meters from the community center along the main entrance road.

In May 1966, the US Corps of Engineers designers presented the proposal to Prince Sultan, organizing the prospective work in six broad categories of construction: troop housing, officers family housing, bachelor officers quarters (BOQ), community facilities, a hospital group, and a maintenance and storage area. Support facilities encompassed utilities (electricity, water, sewage, roads, and a POL storage and distribution system), a 100-bed hospital, a community center, two schools, and two mosques. The cantonment had facilities to serve a total population of about ten thousand soldiers and supporting personnel.

Costs had risen steadily through the 1960s because of the inflationary pressure of the Vietnam War and the growth in construction activity worldwide. Within Saudi Arabia itself, the rapid pace of development had drawn down the available labor pool. The willingness to make numerous changes in the scope of a project and the attention to minutiae of furnishings and design that complicated the development of the Khamis Mushayt cantonment recurred in virtually all of the Saudi projects. Just weeks after the submissions from building contractors, the Saudi Arabian principal participant in one of the joint ventures, Bin Ladin, died in a plane crash. The final consultations proceeded only with the other joint venture.

The contractor’s first shipment of building materials cleared Saudi customs on 20 March 1968; by July, the contractor had set up a rock-crushing and screening plant on site to produce aggregate. In April 1969, the contractor opened a plant to produce terrazzo and concrete floor tiles. By June, the cantonment had become a small town populated by the employees of Hochtief [the contractor] and of the US Corps of Engineers. Despite difficulties with money and water, construction at Khamis Mushayt advanced on schedule throughout 1970. In January 1971, the Saudi Arabian Army Ordnance Corps (SAAOC) moved onto the base at Khamis Mushayt as the first official occupant.

At the dedication in August 1971, the King Faisal Military Cantonment at Khamis Mushayt contained 243 buildings in a two-square-mile area with almost five-and-a-half miles of boundary fence. Although scaled down from the original design, it accommodated over five thousand troops and the families of commissioned and noncommissioned officers. The cantonment cost $67.8 million for construction alone; the Saudis spent an additional $14.5 million on equipment and furnishings.

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Page last modified: 11-01-2013 17:20:07 ZULU