Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel has unveiled renderings of an astonishing new hotel planned for the city of Al-Ula in the Northwestern region of Saudi Arabia, which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is determined to transform into a cultural destination.
The site, where the Nabatean tribe of craftsmen carved arresting structures out of sandstone 2,000 years ago, is the target of a multi-billion-dollar initiative. Prince Salman’s plans, which are moving forward under the auspices of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, include a proposed network of museums and archaeological sites centered on a sprawling museum of Arab culture.
The announcement of the new hotel by Nouvel, a bona fide “starchitect” whose past projects include the National Museum of Qatar in Doha and the Start Museum in Shanghai, brings the Crown Prince’s vision a step closer to reality.
The futuristic hotel, called Sharaan, looks like something out a sci-fi film set. It will be built inside a nature preserve of the same name, and is expected to be completed in 2024.
“My philosophy is always to work with the setting,” Nouvel says in a short video describing the project. “That’s the basis of a contextualist’s work—and that’s what I am. This richness of everything that is there is indeed these rocky masses, this solidity, and the water underneath.”
“To build here is to deepen the location,” he adds.
For the project, Nouvel plans on sculpting within the landscape itself, “rather than competing with it,” according to a statement.
His designs are inspired by how the Nabateans built out the landscape in order to have shelter from the intense heat of summer and extreme cold of winter.
“We are in a desert and the desert is always a mystery,” Nouvel says in the video. “It is always eternity. This is Al-Ula and it is, in effect, an open-air museum.”
When completed, Sharaan will include 40 guest suites and three resort villas. A retreat summit center near the resort will feature 14 private pavilions.
But Salman’s projects have not been without critics. Western cultural leaders have come under fire for collaborating with his government following the murder in 2018 of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which is widely believed to have been organized by the Crown Prince.
See more images of Nouvel’s planned hotel below.