Return of the Jedi: Saudi Arabia resurrects Nabatean life in AlUla – fused with stunning modern architectural design concept

New Jean Nouvel concept designs unveil a new era in architecture: a world-first ‘masterpiece’ resort hidden within the rock dwellings of AlUla, Northwest Arabia

Concept rendering showing an aerial view of the resort built into the majestic Sharaan Nature Reserve.

Concept design showcases elements of the resort built into the mountains of the Sharaan Nature Reserve, AlUla. “Our project should not jeopardise what humanity and time have consecrated. It must celebrate the Nabateans designs and genius without caricaturing it. This act of creation becomes a true cultural act.” -Jean Nouvel

  • This world-first in contextual architecture will take visitors on a vivid sensory and emotional journey through time,ushering in a new era in design where every future detail will tell a story of the landscape’s past.
  • With the concepts taking a curatorial approach, architect Jean Nouvel celebrates AlUla as, “the coming together of a landscape and history; The history of past civilisations in an extraordinary landscape.”
  • Designs show Jean Nouvel’s modern take on millennia-old Nabataean ways of living with monumental designs carved into the rocks that sustainably respect and preserve AlUla’s landscape by drawing on concepts from the nearby Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

AlUla, Saudi Arabia, 27 October 2020 (RAHNUMA)  – New concept designs for the Sharaan by Jean Nouvel resort revealed today offer a deeper understanding of the architect’s daring vision for AlUla, the cultural oasis in north-west 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 Nouveldescribed AlUla as “The coming together of a landscape and history; The history of past civilisations in an extraordinary landscape – the only place to create such a masterpiece.”

Nouvel emphasised 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.”

Jean Nouvel explains how he’s adapting old ways of life to our modern world, minimising the impacts on natural and urban landscapes. To do this Nouvel 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 becomes an artwork in itself.

“Our project should not jeopardise what humanity and time have consecrated,” emphasises Nouvel,“Our project is celebrating the Nabateans spirit without caricaturing it. This creation genuinely becomes a cultural act.”

Taking on a curatorial approach in the museographical sense, Jean Nouvelhascreated public spaces geared towards the joy of living there, by day, by night, with all the various colours, light, shadow, wind, torrential rain, and the passage of time. He invites travellers to embark on a journey through thousands of years of civilisations and geographical strata within every detail of his designs, from the permanent feel of the rocks to the soft comfort of the armchairs, sofa, and seats.

The end result will see guests immersed deep within in a memorable journey through time and space, offering a true discovery of AlUla’s essence.Through immersive experiences in Sharaan’s wilderness, visitors will have personalised 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.

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 eco-tourism. It is designed within The Charter of AlUla, a framework document that includes 12 guiding principles that commits The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) to long-term future development. It will also contribute to the region’s diversified economy through a Retreat Summit Centre and restaurants.

Amr Al Madani, CEO of RCU, said: “These concepts, which showcase Jean Nouvel’s masterly innovation in architecture, underscore our commitment to developing AlUla as a global tourism destination without compromising the history, heritage, and landscape of AlUla. We are a destination built by artists. Sharaan by Jean Nouvel will build on that legacy to become a timeless landscape-architecture that will last forever – a gift to the world.”

Inner courtyard resort concept: “Architecture is there to put its stamp on places and bear witness to the evolving spirit of the times.” -Jean Nouvel
A scenic express lift will bring guests to the heart of the resort, allowing them to travel through millions of years of geological stratas.
The designs shows guests within the resort built into the landscape (patio)
Design displaying the view from within the resort over the landscape of Sharaan “Every urban act is an act of architecture. Our overall strategy should flow from site-sensitive rules.” -Jean Nouvel
Concept rendering showing the view from within the resort over the landscape of the Sharaan Nature Reserve.
Concept rendering of a pool area displaying the interaction of modern designs mixed with the Nabatean way of using light, shadow and rocks.
Design of one of the resort’s rooms with terrace: “Our design principles will guide us as we explore new typologies that reconcile heritage alongside the subtle transformation of the existing architecture.” -Jean Nouvel
The resort embraces the natural colours and materials of AlUla in luxury.
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 becomes an artwork in itself.
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.
These concept renderings show the resort’s luxurious embrace of AlUla’s natural colours, light, shapes, and materials.

Key Features

  • The new Jean Nouvel resort, set to be completed by 2024, will include 40 guest suites and three resort villas. A retreat summit centre near the resort will feature 14 private pavilions.
  • AlUla will be re-opening its heritage sites on 30 October in a significant step to realise its tourism ambitions, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra; the ancient kingdom of Dadan; and the whispering canyons of Jabal Ikmah. Bookings will be available on the Experience AlUla booking site: https://experiencealula.com/
  • By 2035, RCU expects to host two million visitors annually.
  • The new resort is part of the development of AlUla guided by 12 strategic principles drawn from the Commission’s Framework Plan and Charter. This approach to development balances innovation with heritage, arts and culture while unlocking economic potential to provide new opportunities for the local community.
  • The collaboration further supports RCU’s Cultural Manifesto for AlUla, which details the principle cultural landscape developments planned for the area over the next 10 years.
  • AlUla’s human history began more than 200,000 years ago, yet only recently has modern tourism begun to discover the depth and diversity of its experiences and attractions.
  • Archaeologists from Saudi Arabia and around the world are rediscovering this cultural landscape as RCU supports the economic diversification, community empowerment and heritage preservation priorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 programme.
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