Designs revealed for Jean Nouvel-led Sharaan Resort in AlUla, Saudi Arabia

Historicity, nature and hospitality come together in a UNESCO world heritage setting designed by Pritzker laureate Jean Nouvel to create a global meeting point by 2023.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Feb 14, 2020

In tandem with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) recently announced the creation of Sharaan Resort, as part of a larger master plan. To be designed by Pritzker Prize winning French architect Jean Nouvel and his team, the resort will be part of a fully-integrated destination for visitors with 40 keys, including 25 suites, 10 pavilions, and five resort residential estates. The monumental resort, expected to be complete by 2023, is meant to serve as an anchor point to a larger portfolio of hospitality offerings for AlUla.

  • Light and sandstone play a key role in the design of the Sharaan Resort, AlUla | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    Light and sandstone play a key role in the design of the Sharaan ResortImage Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • Sharaan Resort will allow visitors to experience untouched desert environment | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    Sharaan Resort will allow visitors to experience untouched desert environment Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel

AlUla, a governorate and city located in northwestern part of Saudi Arabia, is celebrated for its rich heritage. Archaeological traces discovered here date back to the Bronze Age and a number of ancient treasures and cities that existed, with evidence of thriving civilisations such as the Dadan/Lihyan and the Nabataean kingdoms. AlUla’s most significant landmark is the Nabatean city of Hegra - Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site -popular for its well-preserved tombs and structures. Also known as Mada’in Salih, Hegra was once a thriving metropolis for the Nabatean people, setting the scene for the Silk Road and a vast trading empire.

  • AlUla is one of the most important historic site and the resort will be located among the rocks deep in a valley | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    AlUla is one of the most important historic sites and the resort will be located among the rocks deep in a valley Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • Latticework on the rocks to filter light into the internal spaces of the resort | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    Latticework on the rocks to filter light into the internal spaces of the resort Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel

The development of the Sharaan Resort is set against a picturesque sandstone setting, featuring a resort, residential estates, a spa and an international summit centre. The resort and summit centre are a testament to architecture rooted in Nabatean history and hosted by nature, where landscape, heritage and humanity are inextricably linked.

  • AlUla is one of the most important historic site and the resort will be located among the rocks deep in a valley | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    Patterns created to light up the internal spaces Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • An escalator that goes down into the resort, which are scooped out spaces from natural stone | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    An escalator that goes down into the resort, which are scooped out spaces from natural stoneImage Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Talking about the site, Jean Nouvel said, “The location is rooted in history, it is rooted in the history of the land, the history of the Nabateans. To be able to frame the Sharaan landscape at different heights is amazing, discovering the distant horizons, discovering the different qualities of light”. This development’s revolutionary approach to taking its creative lead from nature is designed to pull AlUla to the forefront of architectural design and position it on the global stage.

  • The resort is being constructed using a combination of mining equipment, tunneling equipment, and standard technology | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    The resort is being constructed using a combination of mining equipment, tunneling equipment, and standard technology Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • Surrounding nature and landscape integrated into the design of Sharaan Resort, AlUla, Saudi Arabia | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    Surrounding nature and landscape integrated into the design of Sharaan Resort, AlUla, Saudi Arabia Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Though detailed plans and designs have not been revealed, progress on the resort is underway, and the development is a part of the strategic roadmap to 2035, where RCU plans to engage the local community and contribute SAR 120bn in growth to the Kingdom’s GDP by 2035 through this and other projects.

Spaces created at various levels, and at different heights for the Sharaan Resort | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
Spaces created at various levels, and at different heights for the Sharaan Resort Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel

The development is planned and programmed keeping global travel statistics in mind. Numbers by Amadeus state that the luxury travel market is one of the most rapidly growing sectors in the industry with outbound luxury trips projected to grow by 6.2 per cent that could grow to USD 1,154 billion by 2022.

One of the internal common social spaces in the Sharaan Resort | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
One of the internal common social spaces in the Sharaan Resort Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel
It will also mean inventing, based on the irregularities of nature and geography. Architecture helps in this. Art helps. We should see what is built here as art. – Jean Nouvel

“The Sharaan Resort is our first step in making AlUla a leading global destination,” said Lisa Kolinac, Chief Development Officer at RCU. “The resort, including an international summit centre, will be designed in a way that harmonises the relationship between the architecture and the stunning natural surroundings. This new development will be rooted in the rich heritage of AlUla, and will be a global meeting point for leaders to meet and explorers to experience.”

  • The historic and heritage rich landscape of AlUla in Saudi Arabia | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    The historic and heritage rich landscape of AlUla in Saudi Arabia Image Credit: Courtesy of Royal Commission for AlUla
  • Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site Image Credit: Courtesy of Royal Commission for AlUla

Last year, RCU also announced its partnership with prestigious luxury hotel and resort brand Aman to build three resorts in AlUla. This will be the first Aman resort to be developed in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. The plans aim to develop luxury visitor experiences in the region, while creating new jobs in the hospitality sector for the local community.

  • Before: The setting of the original stone landscape as photographed | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    Before: The setting of the original stone landscape as photographed Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • After: The resort scooped out, creating various viewpoints with the stone landscape for Sharaan Resort | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    After: The resort scooped out, creating various viewpoints with the stone landscape for Sharaan Resort Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aims to lessen its dependence on oil and transform its economy by developing public services and increasing tourism. Efforts are being made to develop AlUla into a world heritage site, with a focus on the conservation of region’s nature and culture and collaboration with local community. Other projects for AlUla include the Sharaan Nature Reserve and The Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard, ‘to ensure a viable and sustainably managed population of the Arabian Leopard, its wild prey and natural habitats in coexistence with local communities’.

  • A unique façade of glass, stone and natural materials created for Sharaan Resort | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    A unique façade of glass, stone and natural materials created for Sharaan Resort Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  • Latticework in the rocks | Sharaan Resort | Jean Nouvel | STIRworld
    Latticework in the rocks Image Credit: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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