Jean Nouvel’s crazy project in the desert sands of Saudi Arabia

Jean Nouvel's crazy project in the desert sands of Saudi Arabia

It is an understatement to say that the new project of architect Jean Nouvel is breathtaking. The 2008 Prizker Prize (the Nobel Prize for Architecture) winner from Fumel, unveiled last Wednesday what will be Shaaran, an incredible underground hotel in Saudi Arabia, located in the heart of the Sharaan Nature Reserve. “Its designs are inspired by the nearby Nabatean wonders of Hegra, the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia,” the architect explains in his presentation text.


“In a world first, this 2,000-year-old architectural legacy is being revived for the first time since the Nabataeans dug into the region’s million-year-old sandstone rock. This project respects and sustainably preserves the landscape while giving a modern approach to ancient ways of life.”


“Our project must not jeopardize what humanity and time have enshrined. It must celebrate the designs and genius of the Nabataeans without caricaturing them. This act of creation becomes a true cultural act,” says Jean Nouvel. The architect has created a contextual architecture that “will take visitors on a vivid sensory and emotional journey through time, ushering in a new era of design where every future detail will tell a story of the landscape’s past.”


Specifically, the architecture will be carved into the landscape in the way the Nabataeans interacted with their environment, building sustainable cave dwellings in the rock away from the heat of summer and the cold of winter. A visit to the famous site of Petra in Jordan illustrates this. “From the finely chopped stones on the balconies to the singular granularity of each rock face, everything becomes a work of art in itself,” according to Jean Nouvel. Between light and shadow, a breathtaking view of the landscape or an ochre cocoon in the heart of the stones, the concept promises to be as grandiose as the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum.


This vast architectural project is the first intervention in the region. The complex developed by the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) will include 40 suites, three villas and 14 private pavilions. It is expected to be completed by 2024.

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