Infrastructure is not the most exciting word in architecture. There are no celebrity architects proudly discussing their below-ground waste systems with the media. Indeed, by its very nature, infrastructure is usually out of sight, but our towns and cities couldn’t exist without it. What’s more, without finding ways to improve it, our future urban environments will struggle to survive.
Not surprisingly, technology is coming to the rescue, helping us adapt to everything from extreme weather conditions to grid-locked highways. Technology, of course, has been shaping cities for millennia, with Rome, for instance, creating aqueducts to transport water to its citizens and, in doing so, created the first mega-metropolis.
Today, though, we are facing up to new challenges, not least climate change and population growth. Yet if there is one thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed us all to do, it’s to re-appraise… everything. It has delivered an intense economic shock, with governments clambering to stabilize markets with a rush of stimulus and job protection packages.
A Trillion-Dollar Pipeline of Projects
As the world begins to recover, Saudi Arabia’s construction sector will return to positive growth during 2021 following its backward move throughout 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic’s initial economic impact.
The long-term outlook remains strong, with efforts to diversify the economy away from oil offering opportunities for residential and non-residential projects and significant transport infrastructure.
Estimated to grow at a CAGR of approximately 6% to 2026, Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure sector was buoyed by the announcement of a trillion-dollar pipeline of projects that will help to position the Kingdom as a global hub for investment and logistics. This development programme has created opportunities in a variety of new areas, such as smart cities, tourism and clean energy.
For instance, the Qiddiya project, situated 45km west of Riyadh, is being developed as a city for entertainment, sports and the arts, with a completion date of 2022 for the first phase. Initial infrastructure costs are approximately $8 billion, with the project requiring additional investment to achieve its objective of 17 million visitors per year by 2035.
Estimated to grow at a CAGR of approximately 6% to 2026
The digital revolution is playing its part too. AECOM, the world’s leading infrastructure consulting firm, is designing the transport and utilities backbone infrastructure for NEOM, another giga-project and a new model for urbanization and sustainability.
Bill Price, program director at AECOM, said: “In order to accelerate the delivery of this transformative project, our global team will be using the latest innovations to deliver a 100% digital design. Digital tools will play a vital role in the collaborative approach and stakeholder engagement, with quickly produced visualizations that are built from live design data that is geospatial accurate, enabling and unlocking the power of a data-driven design.”
Digital will perform a crucial role in delivering the core scope of services within the program requirements, in addition to achieving the vision for technological advancement. The delivery team will adopt a data-led process, providing information-rich 3D models and geospatial data. The digital delivery processes will also facilitate collaboration across global teams and make available to them the tools to efficiently design for construction.
This will see the Kingdom’s energy sector witness an era of high-speed digital transformation
Saudi Arabia also plans to invest $66.67 billion in healthcare infrastructure and enhance private sector involvement from the existing 40% to 65% by 2030. It is estimated that the Kingdom’s population will grow from 34.3 million in 2019 to 39.4 million by 2030 and rise to as high as 45 million by 2050.
Robust growth in the GCC healthcare sector, driven by a surge in medical devices and the developing branded generics market, will ensure that an estimated 40-50% of planned healthcare investment is likely to be on infrastructure until 2025.
Saudi Arabia also plans to invest $66.67 billion in healthcare infrastructure
Higher Levels of Urban Lifestyle
Other planned projects aim to address a specific social challenge. For example, to tackle the shortage in affordable housing, the housing ministry has set up the Sakani programme, which provides Saudi nationals with access to residential plots, self-construction residential housing, prefabricated housing units, among other options. All of these require the necessary infrastructure, including electricity.
And while evolving customer demands and accelerating technological innovations will transform the way the world buys, sells and regulates electricity, the sector will be challenged by the transformation’s rapidity. This will see the Kingdom’s energy sector witness an era of high-speed digital transformation as an investment of $90 billion fast-tracks its Vision 2030 sustainability, R&D and manufacturing aims.
Across all sectors, the demographics of Saudi cities hold great significance, not just for deciding the fate of swiftly urbanizing cities, but also for their potential contribution to achieving Saudi Arabia’s medium-to-long term vision for delivering a sustainable economy. Within this vision and the national transformation program, Saudi Arabia aims to improve its infrastructure and attain higher levels of urban lifestyle for its people. This effort will be supplemented by a $500 billion investment, which will be focused on modernizing the infrastructure of the existing 285 municipalities across the Kingdom.