Jean Nouvel to Carve a Cultural Masterpiece in Saudi Arabian Desert
Pritzker award winner and the architect of Qatar’s spectacular National Museum, Jean Nouvel revealed designs of a ‘masterpiece’ resort hidden within the rock dwellings of AlUla, in Northwest Arabia.
Located deep within the Sharaan Nature Reserve, the designs draw on the nearby Nabataean wonders of Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. In a world-first, this 2,000-year-old architectural legacy is being revived by Jean Nouvel for potentially the first time since the Nabataeans carved into the region’s millions-of-years-old sandstone rock.
As the concepts were unveiled, architect Jean Nouvel described AlUla as “The coming together of a landscape and history; The history of past civilizations in an extraordinary landscape – the only place to create such a masterpiece.”
The futuristic hotel, called Sharaan, looks like completely out of a movie set with caves being celebrated through design interventions. The resort to be built inside Sharaan Nature Reserve is expected to be completed in 2024.
Nouvel emphasized the importance of preserving such a unique landscape: “AlUla is a museum. Every wadi and escarpment, every stretch of sand and rocky outline, every geological and archeological site deserves the greatest consideration. It’s vital we keep all its distinctiveness and conserve its attractiveness, which largely rests on its remote and occasionally archaic character. We have to safeguard a little mystery as well as the promise of discoveries to come.”
Nouvel’s commitment to respecting AlUla’s landscape and ancient heritage has not meant shying away from modern architectural ideas.
“AlUla deserves to acquire a degree of modernity,” he suggests. “Envisioning the future is a never-ending obligation that requires us to be fully alive to places in the present as well as conjuring up the past.”
When completed, Sharaan will include 40 guest suites and three resort villas. A retreat summit center near the resort will feature 14 private pavilions.
Jean Nouvel explains how he’s adapting old ways of life to the modern world, minimizing the impacts on natural and urban landscapes. To do this novel has introduced a new typology of architecture never seen before, using abstraction, sculpting within the landscape itself rather than competing with it. Inspired by the Nabateans, it plays on the old ways of living to build on the present and meet the challenges of the future. Jean Nouvel integrates the way Nabateans interacted with their environment, both verticality, and horizontality, to reconnect to the earth and build sustainable habitats, away from the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.
Nouvel views this resort as an opportunity to bring to life a strong spatial, sensorial, and emotional experience on the borders of nature, architecture, and art – where the sound, musicality, harshness, tactility, power, and complexity of nature are everywhere, from finely chopped stones on balconies to the singular granularity of each rock wall, all become an artwork in itself.
“Our project should not jeopardize what humanity and time have consecrated,” emphasizes Nouvel, “Our project is celebrating the Nabateans spirit without caricaturing it. This creation genuinely becomes an acultural act.”
Through immersive experiences in Sharaan’s wilderness, visitors will have personalized exposure to the hundreds of archaeological sites within AlUla. Yet, this level of luxury will not be at the cost of the natural landscape, as the new resort will draw on emission-free power and new standards in sustainability, promises the architect.
The Sharaan by Jean Nouvel Resort will be a key element of RCU’s strategy to develop AlUla as a global destination for culture, heritage, and ecotourism. It is designed within The Charter of AlUla, a framework document that includes 12 guiding principles that commit The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) to long-term future development.