The celebrated and Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel has revealed an ethereal and monumental hotel carved into the natural rock formations of Saudi Arabia’s AlUla desert. The starchitect has unveiled the renderings exposing the enigmatic desert; sculpting through rocks ensuing along with the wind and sun striations—the design echoes to an eternal awakening in the sandstone hills.
Taking cues from AlUla’s history, which began more than 200,000 years ago, the Sharaan’s heart-warming sensorial experience and fascinating spatial visualizations explore the mystery and magnificence of ancient dialects between nature and humans. The marvellous perforations and voids of volumes spark a stunning presence of another dimension blending into the history of past civilizations and cultural landscape.
This multi-billion dollar initiative was geared by the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is determined to transform this into a cultural destination. Also, under the auspices of the Royal Commission for AIUla, they have proposed a network of museums and archaeological sites centred around a sprawling museum of Arab culture.
The city of AIUla lies northwest of Saudi Arabia, around 220 miles north of the city of Medina. The site is a landmark legacy where the Nabatean tribe of craftsman carved arresting structures out of sandstone 2000 years ago. The futuristic design of Sharaan kindles a “sci-fi” vibe, resonating along with its alcoves, open to skylight wells and luminous embellishments.
Nouvel’s daring vision follows a path to contextualize and revive the design from its roots, chiselling the richness of the rocky boulders, embracing the solid masses and water underneath. He has invoked the Nabateans spirits without caricaturing it, thus engendering the project as a cultural act.
Every wadi and escarpment, every stretch of sand and rocky outline, every geological and archaeological site deserves the most significant attention and appreciation. The distinctive features of the Sharaan landscape are treasured and conserved to envision a new typology of art and architecture. Natural expressions are left undisturbed from the strong emotive lines and borders of nature, the sound and gush of air orchestrating a musical chant, the intricately chopped stones on balconies to the singular granularity of each rock wall, entirely synthesized into the aura of the architecture and art.
The subterranean resort encompasses 40 rooms and three resort villas that are slashed into the cliff’s profile following every suite endowed with a balcony space to capture the majestic views across the sandy terrain. A dazzling 80-metre circular light shaft is conceptualized into the central arena upon entering the hotel. The expanse of space leads the visitor’s eyes to gaze onto the thrilling blue skies, bordered by a series of rooms stacked rising up the curve. Every suite is provided with sandstone walls aimed to jolt a relationship with the former Nabataean city.
“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,” said Nouvel. The final fantasy will see guests to be deeply immersed within Sharaan’s wilderness, creating a memorable journey through space and time. Visitors will also have personalized exposure to hundreds of archaeological sites within AIUla. The 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.
Jean Nouvel’s masterstrokes are clearly harnessing an innovative future of architecture, commitment without compromising the history, heritage and landscape. An extraordinary feat that will build on the legacy to evolve into a timeless landscape-architecture.
Project Name: Sharaan
Location: ALUla, Saudi Arabia
Architect: Jean Nouvel
Client: The Royal Commission For Alula (RCU)