French architect Jean Nouvel, renowned for his experimental designs, has long since earned himself a place in the pantheon of architectural superstars. So it is no surprise that one of his latest creations, a subterranean resort carved into a sandstone hill in the Al Ula area of Saudi Arabia, has caused something of a stir,
Named Sharaan by Nouvel, the resort takes a modern perspective on millennia-old ways of living, with monumental designs carved into the rocks that both respect and preserve the landscape.
Inspired by the nearby Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and located in the Sharaan Nature Reserve, the concept takes a curatorial approach, bringing together landscape and history.
Scheduled to be completed by 2024, the resort developed by the Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU), will include 40 guest suites, three villas, and 14 private pavilions. It will take visitors on a vivid sensory and poignant journey through time, ushering in a new era in design where every future detail will tell a story of the landscape’s past.
As Nouvel explained: “Al Ula is a museum. Every wadi and escarpment, every stretch of sand and rocky outline, every geological and archaeological site deserves the greatest consideration. It’s vital we keep all its distinctiveness and conserve its attractiveness, which largely rests on its remote and occasionally archaic character. We have to safeguard a little mystery as well as the promise of discoveries to come. Al Ula deserves to acquire a degree of modernity. 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.”
Protecting the unique landscape, while introducing contemporary ways of living, the intervention will have minimal impact on natural and urban landscapes. The architecture will be carved within the landscape itself, a typology inspired by the Nabateans’ way of interacting with their environment, building sustainable habitats away from the summer’s heat and the cold of the winter.
Guests to Sharaan will discover the region’s authentic character and be exposed to the hundreds of archaeological sites within Al Ula. As Nouvel stated: “This creation genuinely becomes a cultural act.”