60 Years of Education

Aramco’s Energy Exhibit celebrates 60th anniversary

Now a component of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, the Energy Exhibit has been an educational touchstone for decades.

Aramco’s Energy Exhibit celebrates 60th anniversary

Aramco’s Energy Exhibit celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, providing engaging and high-quality learning experiences for visitors of all ages focusing on energy and Aramco’s role in supporting development for the Kingdom. 


Now a key component of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), the Energy Exhibit has received numerous visits by figures throughout its history, including:


  • British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1991
  • Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani in 1998
  • Chinese president Jiang Zemin in 1999
  • Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2001. 

The exhibit featured Aramco and its activities at World Expos in the Kingdom’s traveling exhibit titled “The Kingdom: Yesterday and Today,” and in hundreds of national and international exhibitions, forums, and events, specializing in oil, gas, energy, and the environment. 


Long before Ithra was established, the Energy Exhibit served as Aramco’s primary facility for receiving guests and communicating its impact. Originally called the Oil Exhibit, it underwent significant upgrades and numerous name changes before settling in 1987 at its current headquarters — located on top of the Dammam field, where oil was discovered in the Kingdom in 1938, and just one mile from Prosperity Well No. 7. 


The story of the exhibit’s beginnings and developments mirror the dramatic changes and the growing importance of the Kingdom itself. 

Road from Damascus

The concept for building a permanent oil exhibit began in 1955, when Aramco participated for the first time in the Saudi Pavilion of the Annual Damascus International Trade Fair, the largest exhibition in the Arab world at that time. 


The turnout was impressive, and many Saudi officials expressed their hope that one day they would be able to see a similar exhibit in the Kingdom, so all could learn more about their country’s greatest natural asset. 


Soon after, Aramco started planning a large-scale exhibition that would travel around the country as part of a comprehensive oil industry outreach program. Called the Mobile Oil Industry Exhibit Project, it was produced in collaboration with Sheikh Abdullah Al-Turaigi, who later became the first minister of oil. 


It showed aspects of employees’ lives, industrial training opportunities, the home ownership project, employee communities, and safety methods. Launching first in Jiddah in December 1957, the exhibit lasted for two months and hosted nearly 2,000 people per day.

In 1958, the exhibit moved to Riyadh and was inaugurated by the Prince of Riyadh at that time, who we now know as King Salman bin Abdulaziz. The mobile exhibit continued to operate with improvements over the next 14 years, with 49 separate events held in many Saudi cities. It was considered something new and beautiful, and many visitors said that the exhibit was the first time they had ever seen films. 

Permanent headquarters

Given the popularity of Aramco’s traveling exhibit, the company established a permanent exhibit near its headquarters in Dhahran. In 1963, the acting Prince of the Eastern Region, Prince Abdul Mohsen bin Jalawy, inaugurated the company’s first permanent exhibit, known as the “Oil Industry Exhibit.” 


Initially, the exhibit occupied the western half of the dining hall building in the senior staff community in Dhahran, and over the following 11 years it hosted about 300,000 people, including the future King Salman in 1973. 

Into the 1980s, the exhibit was housed in a number of permanent and temporary structures, including a purpose-built structure near what we now call Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare. Its final home, designed by the prestigious Saudi architectural office of Zuhair Fayez, was inspired by the features of Islamic architecture. 


Ismail Nawwab, general manager of Public Affairs at the time, helped to revitalize the Oil Industry Exhibit into a state-of-the-art interactive educational center. Not only did he play a vital role in shaping the new vision for the building and its programs to reflect the spirit of Islamic civilization, he also obtained the necessary support to implement the project. 

Current headquarters

In April 1987, the renamed Saudi Aramco Exhibit began receiving visitors at its current headquarters and became a prestigious destination. Visitors were able to experience eight pavilions, which presented the story of the Kingdom’s oil industry, including an introduction to oil, its formation underground, upstream and downstream sectors, drilling, production and reservoir management, refineries, transport network, and more. 

One pavilion focused on Aramco’s story and history, while another recounted the exploits of Arab and Muslim scholars over the past 1,000 years. All exhibits utilized the latest audiovisual technologies to engage visitors of all ages. 


Between 30,000 and 50,000 students visited each year as part of the School Visits Program, traveling by bus from towns and villages across the Eastern Region. One of the most popular events was a “Dinosaur Exhibition,” held in 1997, which hosted about half a million visitors in its five-week run. This show marked a paradigm shift in the company’s interaction with the community, and after 10 years of operation, the exhibit team recommended a full revamp to keep pace with technical developments.      

First upgrade project

By 1999, the Saudi Aramco Exhibit featured new attractions, including an aquarium with colored fish and coral reefs, indicating the origin of oil; an elevator-like “terrascope,” which simulated the effect of traveling between geological layers to where oil is present; and a simulation of a giant oil tanker, to demonstrate shipping and unloading operations. Visits surged to an average of 200,000 per year. 


In 2002, the exhibit introduced a film entitled “Energy to the World,” produced with 3D imaging technology, and from 2001-2010, it organized the Aramco Summer Festival, and programs for Ramadan and ‘Id in nearby large temporary tents. These festivals attracted more than a quarter of a million people in 2010. In addition, the working team used the exhibit building to organize Aramco exhibits for participation in conferences and events inside and outside the Kingdom, as well as official visits to the company. The exhibit building became the headquarters for the Community Outreach Team and the team running the Aramco Mobile Library program. 

More upgrades

In subsequent upgrades, starting in 2011, the idea behind the exhibit was reshaped so that it became a science center to stimulate young people’s passion for STEM subjects and energy- related fields. To reflect the new mission, the name was changed from the Saudi Aramco Exhibit to the Energy Exhibit.


As with Ithra, which was under construction at the time, architects worked to achieve harmony with the topography. The exterior was simplified, and the dark brown granite façade was replaced with lighter stone. Efforts were made to retain original architectural integrity, while integrating the design with the Ithra campus. A large art installation of colored glass was placed at the entrance, and starting in 2017, the new Energy Exhibit opened alongside the soft opening of Ithra, in line with National Day celebrations. The public opening took place in June 2018, on the second day of ‘Id al-Fitr.

Today, visitors begin their tour in the exploration area, as if entering a stone cave in the ground, and can witness how oil was formed tens of millions of years ago on the ocean floor. In the next hall, they learn about oil exploration techniques, and later, a hall with a floating globe illustrates how tectonic plates moved to form continents and oceans. In this hall, visitors are brought to modern times, where the first geologists and their Saudi guides pinpointed locations to start exploration and drilling operations. 


In subsequent halls, visitors learn about oil treatment plants, refineries, gas plants, marine platforms, and the many useful petrochemical products such as plastics, textiles, or composites that can be derived from the hydrocarbon molecule. 


Forever changing

Just as the company and the Kingdom have changed in the past 90 years, the Energy Exhibit itself changes with them, telling about the important role that Saudi Arabia and Aramco play in delivering energy and vital chemical products, as well as innovative technology solutions, to the world. 


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