Award-winning architect Jean Nouvel joins Royal Commission for AlUla at Dubai Design Week


Dubai: Running from November 8-13, DDW is the premier event for the design, architecture and art sectors. This year marks the first time RCU has taken part in DDW, held at Dubai Design District (d3). The AlUla design exhibition will highlight the diversity of projects that are shaping the emerging design city in northwest Saudi Arabia while also inspiring international and Saudi-based creatives to be part of the AlUla journey.

One of the world’s most celebrated architects, Nouvel’s impressive credentials extend to designing iconic cultural buildings around the world. In AlUla, Ateliers Jean Nouvel has conceptualised the Sharaan Nature Resort, a pioneering resort and residence that will be carved and sculpted from the rocks of AlUla, Nabataean style, in the protected Sharaan Nature Reserve.

“AlUla is sacred. It holds great significance, filled with unique sites for exploration and discovery, and is therefore deserving of innovation and respectful design to enhance the well-being of the local community and elevate its original authenticity,” said Nouvel.

In a talk entitled Shaaran, AlUla: A Journey Through Time the architect, joining online from Paris, presents his radical approach to architecture and design, which seeks to integrate natural and cultural heritage in one living environment. Part of a special AlUla programme at the DDW Downtown Design Stage, the talk will be at 3pm on Friday 12 November with Nouvel in conversation with Samantha Cotterell, the Royal Commission for AlUla’s (RCU) Executive Director of Design.

A second panel at 4pm entitled AlUla, A Cultural Landscape will look at how architecture and art can exist in harmony with the natural landscapes of the desert and will be moderated by Sumantro Ghose, Artistic Programming Director, Royal Commission for AlUla. Panelists Nora AlDabal, Director Art & Creative Planning, Royal Commission for AlUla, Florian Boje, Lead Architect Gioforma Architects the company that designed AlUla’s iconic mirrored Maraya venue, Nouf AlAnkari, Design Manager, Royal Commission for AlUla and Waleed Shaaran, Design Director, AFALULA, French Agency for AlUla Development to discuss the concept of land architecture, seen in Maraya and Desert X AlUla, a large-scale contemporary art exhibition.

A true marvel of architecture, Maraya is an impressive example of how incredible design is an integral part of the Journey Through Time Masterplan. The ambitious and considered masterplan is arguably the biggest destination development and place-making project in the world. Major global design and architecture firms currently working on projects from hospitality to museums and residences include Kerry Hill Architects, Khammash Architects, Prior & Partners and Allies & Morrison.

Samantha Cotterell said that with the breadth and range of projects currently being planned and executed in AlUla, RCU’s participation at DDW is an opportunity to connect with the global design community.

“As well as the incredible architecture of buildings like Maraya and AlUla International Airport, there are significant site-specific international art exhibitions as well as hospitality such as Ashar Banyan Tree and Habitas AlUla Resort. As one of the major Saudi Vision 2030 projects, AlUla is gaining the attention of international design audiences who are keen to further understand the design language and the care and thought that has gone into the master planning of AlUla,” said Cotterell.

AlUla and the Journey Through Time Masterplan is also an opportunity for emerging and established Saudi designers to work on one of the most globally significant projects in the world.

Visitors to DDW can visit RCU’s specially designed exhibition at d3. The exhibition, designed by Gio Forma and Black Engineering, is inspired by the extraordinary rock formations in AlUla’s desert and mountain landscapes.  It features masterplans, architecture and designs by world-leading architects and designers, revealing the development of early planning principles, research approaches and both realized and future projects. 

Also taking place at AlUla’s Design Exhibition in Building 5 at d3, is AlUla Design Talks, a series of daily events from 09- 11 November at 4pm led by members of RCU’s design, arts and culture teams alongside industry partners, invited architects and Saudi designers. The talks will breakdown key art and design elements from RCU’s Journey Through Time (JTT) Masterplan, which launched globally in April 2021. Topics will range from designing sustainably for a new wave of tourism, women in design and integrating art into architecture.

AlUla County is an important part of the Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan. The region is positioned between a desert plateau and the Hijaz mountains and covers an area of 22,561 square kilometres. 

About AlUla:

Located 1,100 km from Riyadh, in North-West Saudi Arabia, AlUla is a place of extraordinary natural and human heritage. The vast area, covering 22,561km², includes a lush oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and ancient cultural heritage sites dating back thousands of years to when the Lihyan and Nabataean kingdoms reigned.

The most well-known and recognised site in AlUla is Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 52-hectare ancient city, Hegra was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom and is comprised of 111 well-preserved tombs, many with elaborate facades cut out of the sandstone outcrops surrounding the walled urban settlement. Current research also suggests Hegra was the most southern outpost of the Roman Empire after the Roman’s conquered the Nabataeans in 106 CE.

In addition to Hegra, AlUla is also home to ancient Dadan, the capital of the Dadan and Lihyan Kingdoms and considered to be one of the most developed 1st millennium BCE cities of the Arabian Penninsula. And Jabal Ikmah, an open air library of hundreds of inscriptions and writings in many different languages. Also AlUla Old Town, a labyrinth of more than 900 mudbrick homes developed from at least the 12th century, and Hijaz Railway and Hegra Fort, key sites in the story and conquests of Lawrence of Arabia.

About The Royal Commission for AlUla:

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was established by royal decree in July 2017 to protect and safeguard AlUla, a region of outstanding natural and cultural significance in North-West Saudi Arabia. RCU is embarking on a long-term plan to develop and deliver a sensitive, sustainable transformation of the region, reaffirming it as one of the country’s most important archaeological and cultural destinations and preparing it to welcome visitors from around the world. RCU’s development work in AlUla encompasses a broad range of initiatives across archaeology, tourism, culture, education and the arts, reflecting the ambitious commitment to cultivate tourism and leisure in Saudi Arabia, outlined in Vision 2030.