Architect Jean Nouvel talks about design for resort among Al-Ula’s rocks

Jean Nouvel, the French architect who is designing a resort among the rocks of Al-Ula, told Arab News that he believes the heritage area will become a global tourist destination. (Screenshot/Arab News)
Updated 14 February 2019

Architect Jean Nouvel talks about design for resort among Al-Ula’s rocks

  • The region is known for its natural landscapes, including its sandstone rock formations, and archaeological sites
  • Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched mega tourism projects in Al-Ula on Sunday

AL-ULA, Saudi Arabia: Jean Nouvel, the French architect who is designing a resort among the rocks of Al-Ula, told Arab News that he believes the heritage area will become a global tourist destination because of its unique qualities.
“Building Sharaan Resort represents an amazing opportunity because of its location on one of the world’s important historic sites,” he told Arab News, in an exclusive interview, speaking in French.
The region is known for its natural landscapes, including its sandstone rock formations, and archaeological sites such as Madain Saleh, the largest Nabatean settlement south of Petra that contains the ancient civilization’s rock tombs with their carved facades. In 2008, it was designated as Saudi Arabia’s first Unesco World Heritage site.
Nouvel said that Sharaan Resort will be located among the rocks deep in a valley inside a 925-square-kilometer Sharaan Nature Reserve; both take their name from the surrounding canyon, which is a short trip away from Madain Saleh.
Both are cornerstones in the new vision for Al-Ula, which was launched Sunday night by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, governor of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula.


READ MORE: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince launches mega tourism projects in ancient area of Al-Ula


“I think that for an architect to build a project on such a site is a rare and wonderful opportunity,” said Nouvel, who brought the world’s attention to the UAE for his design of Louvre Abu Dhabi when it opened in 2017. “The area is characterized by the diversity and precision of its unique embossments that were defined by the movement of the wind and the water.”
While the full design not due until the end of this year, Nouvel said that it will be built among the rocks in Sharaan. “I actually established the relation between history and modernity by using the region’s geographical nature, especially the rocks,” he said. “We will rely on the knowledge to create some internal fresh spaces similar to the patios found in the Arab culture.”

“I thought that we could use the rocks because their temperature is always at 20 degrees. It will allow us to welcome guests inside the rocks without consuming a lot of energy. It also offers them the chance to get on top of the rocks and contemplate the magnificent sceneries.
“That is why I think visitors will be happy and amazed here. They will come to spend a few days and interact with one another. This could turn architecture and culture into a means of connection, a better way to understand and express the culture and pleasures of an era through the furnished units.”

The resort will include residential estates, a summit center, a spa and restaurants. Construction is expected to begin in early 2020, with a completion date of 2023. The reserve will conserve and restore the region’s natural desert habitats, including the Arabian leopard, with the help of local rangers trained by international experts.
Both will be crucial to realizing the ambitious goals of the commission, which aims, by 2035, to attract 2 million visitors to the area, creating 38,000 jobs and generating SR120 billion ($32 billion). It is also in keeping with the crown prince’s Vision 2030, which aims to develop the Kingdom’s tourism sector and provide the younger generation with the skills that they need for the future as it diversifies the economy away from its dependence on oil.

The commission has already launched a scholarship program to train Saudi students in the US, the UK and France in the fields of tourism and archaeology; this year, it will add architecture and environmental planning to the mix. The Hammayah program will also provide up to 2,500 opportunities for local men and women to get involved in a community effort to preserve the wonders of Al-Ula.
The project is all about “locals, locals, locals,” Rami Al-Sakran, capabilities development manager for the commission, who is leading the Al-Ula scholarship program, told Arab News at the announcement on Sunday. “Without the locals, we can’t succeed.”
The plan was launched at a groundbreaking ceremony at Maraya, a concert hall with a mirrored facade that was built for the Winter at Tantora festival, which will bring visitors to the untouched area for two more weekends.
“This is just so beautiful, the desert and the sky at night, the stars… the natural beauty here is stunning,” Yanni told Arab News at the ceremony. “I have never experienced this type of beauty before in my life.”


Locals welcome Sharqiah Season visitors from far and wide

Updated 18 min 50 sec ago

Locals welcome Sharqiah Season visitors from far and wide

  • The Sharqiah Seasonfeatures over 80 events in cities acrossf the Kingdom's Eastern Province
  • Events in the upcoming weekends feature sports events as as well as concerts

RIYADH: Residents of the Eastern Province are no strangers to foreign visitors — the nation’s oil heartland has been welcoming them for years. But more have been arriving with the opening of Sharqiah Season, featuring over 80 events across the region’s cities.

Organized as a collaborative effort by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage alongside the General Entertainment Authority, the General Culture Authority and the General Sports Authority, it is the first of 11 scheduled festivals planned across the country in 2019.

Faisal Al-Rayisi, an employee at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, told Arab News he was surprised by the number of people arriving for the festival. 

“People are not only coming from Saudi Arabia, but from all over the Gulf as well — Kuwait and the UAE in particular,” he said. “I’ve even seen foreigners from Europe and Asia coming through. Time was, we used to go to Dubai for our entertainment, but now people from Dubai are coming to us.”

He also mentioned how happy he was to see the festivities coming to the Eastern Province. “Jeddah has this slogan, ‘Jeddah is different,’ but now that we’re seeing the first Sharqiah Season in our region, and all of these amazing activities and concerts are happening here, I think we can safely say ‘Sharqiah is different’ now.”

The Sharqiah festival aims to deliver an extensive entertainment experience for both Saudis and visitors to the Kingdom.

The festival features events in Eastern Province cities, including Dammam, Dhahran, Alkhobar, Al-Ahsa and Jubail. Future seasons will focus on different areas of Saudi Arabia, with different entertainment options for each city. Upcoming seasons will focus on different areas, and also different parts of the year, such as Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.

Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, said in a statement that  the organization’s participation in the festival aligns with its goal of improving the quality of life in the Kingdom, and discovering local talent in various entertainment industries.  

He also highlighted the importance of the entertainment sector and its contribution to the economy and the creation of jobs for locals, all important aspects of Vision 2030.

The opening night of Sharqiah Season on Thursday drew crowds of Saudis to the Alkhobar Corniche, despite strong winds and sprinklings of rain earlier in the day. Groups of friends stopping to take selfies and families with young children in tow wandered through the Entertainment Boulevard, lined with food stalls selling karak and koshari.

Earlier in the day, the mega event began with the opening of an exhibit featuring the work of Leonardo da Vinci at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra). 

The exhibit showcased some of Da Vinci’s original sketches, with several screens showing videos detailing how his designs have continued to inspire scientists and inventors in the modern era.

Sharqiah Season continues until March 30, with upcoming weekends featuring sports events such as the Red Bull Air Race and the Formula 1 H20 boat race, as well as concerts in Dammam featuring Akon, Deadmau5, Pitbull and French Montana.