Architect Jean Nouvel talks about design for resort among Al-Ula’s rocks

Jean Nouvel, the French architect who is designing a resort among the rocks of Al-Ula, told Arab News that he believes the heritage area will become a global tourist destination. (Screenshot/Arab News)
Updated 14 February 2019
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Architect Jean Nouvel talks about design for resort among Al-Ula’s rocks

  • The region is known for its natural landscapes, including its sandstone rock formations, and archaeological sites
  • Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched mega tourism projects in Al-Ula on Sunday

AL-ULA, Saudi Arabia: Jean Nouvel, the French architect who is designing a resort among the rocks of Al-Ula, told Arab News that he believes the heritage area will become a global tourist destination because of its unique qualities.
“Building Sharaan Resort represents an amazing opportunity because of its location on one of the world’s important historic sites,” he told Arab News, in an exclusive interview, speaking in French.
The region is known for its natural landscapes, including its sandstone rock formations, and archaeological sites such as Madain Saleh, the largest Nabatean settlement south of Petra that contains the ancient civilization’s rock tombs with their carved facades. In 2008, it was designated as Saudi Arabia’s first Unesco World Heritage site.
Nouvel said that Sharaan Resort will be located among the rocks deep in a valley inside a 925-square-kilometer Sharaan Nature Reserve; both take their name from the surrounding canyon, which is a short trip away from Madain Saleh.
Both are cornerstones in the new vision for Al-Ula, which was launched Sunday night by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, governor of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula.

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READ MORE: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince launches mega tourism projects in ancient area of Al-Ula

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“I think that for an architect to build a project on such a site is a rare and wonderful opportunity,” said Nouvel, who brought the world’s attention to the UAE for his design of Louvre Abu Dhabi when it opened in 2017. “The area is characterized by the diversity and precision of its unique embossments that were defined by the movement of the wind and the water.”
While the full design not due until the end of this year, Nouvel said that it will be built among the rocks in Sharaan. “I actually established the relation between history and modernity by using the region’s geographical nature, especially the rocks,” he said. “We will rely on the knowledge to create some internal fresh spaces similar to the patios found in the Arab culture.”

“I thought that we could use the rocks because their temperature is always at 20 degrees. It will allow us to welcome guests inside the rocks without consuming a lot of energy. It also offers them the chance to get on top of the rocks and contemplate the magnificent sceneries.
“That is why I think visitors will be happy and amazed here. They will come to spend a few days and interact with one another. This could turn architecture and culture into a means of connection, a better way to understand and express the culture and pleasures of an era through the furnished units.”

The resort will include residential estates, a summit center, a spa and restaurants. Construction is expected to begin in early 2020, with a completion date of 2023. The reserve will conserve and restore the region’s natural desert habitats, including the Arabian leopard, with the help of local rangers trained by international experts.
Both will be crucial to realizing the ambitious goals of the commission, which aims, by 2035, to attract 2 million visitors to the area, creating 38,000 jobs and generating SR120 billion ($32 billion). It is also in keeping with the crown prince’s Vision 2030, which aims to develop the Kingdom’s tourism sector and provide the younger generation with the skills that they need for the future as it diversifies the economy away from its dependence on oil.

The commission has already launched a scholarship program to train Saudi students in the US, the UK and France in the fields of tourism and archaeology; this year, it will add architecture and environmental planning to the mix. The Hammayah program will also provide up to 2,500 opportunities for local men and women to get involved in a community effort to preserve the wonders of Al-Ula.
The project is all about “locals, locals, locals,” Rami Al-Sakran, capabilities development manager for the commission, who is leading the Al-Ula scholarship program, told Arab News at the announcement on Sunday. “Without the locals, we can’t succeed.”
The plan was launched at a groundbreaking ceremony at Maraya, a concert hall with a mirrored facade that was built for the Winter at Tantora festival, which will bring visitors to the untouched area for two more weekends.
“This is just so beautiful, the desert and the sky at night, the stars… the natural beauty here is stunning,” Yanni told Arab News at the ceremony. “I have never experienced this type of beauty before in my life.”

 


Muslim World League signs deal with Moscow to promote interfaith dialogue

Updated 22 April 2019
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Muslim World League signs deal with Moscow to promote interfaith dialogue

  • Al-Issa lauds Russian model of national harmony and coexistence
  • Al-Issa also met with Speaker of the Russian Parliament last month

MOSCOW: The Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL) Sheikh Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa held a meeting with the president of the Russian People’s Council, Sergei Ordzhonikidze, and other council members, where they discussed issues of common interest.

They looked into means of boosting cooperation between Russia and the Muslim world, supporting positive national integration programs and countering extremist speeches and Islamophobia.

Al-Issa lauded the Russian model of national harmony and coexistence, while Ordzhonikidze presented Al-Issa with a copy of the council’s yearly report.

At the meeting the two parties signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to share their experiences in the fight against extremist ideologies, the promotion of interreligious dialogue and coexistence and the implementation of joint projects to achieve shared goals. They also stressed the pure and peaceful values of Islam and rejected all forms of extremism and Islamophobia.

The meeting was attended by the Russian deputy chairman of the Committee for the Development of Agriculture, Aygun Memedov, the chairman of the Committee on the Normalization of Relations Between Nationalities and Religions, Sheikh Albert Karganov, the Mufti of Moscow and the Khanti-Mansisk Region in Siberia Sheikh Tahir Samatov.

Last month, Al-Issa met with Speaker of the Russian Parliament Vyacheslav Volodin. They discussed subjects related to promoting and supporting dialogue among followers of different religions and civilizations, activating cultural contacts and exchanges between the Muslim world and Russia.

Al-Issa signed a cooperation agreement between the MWL and Moscow’s Fund for Islamic Culture, Science and Education. The agreement focused on tackling extremism and promoting tolerance. The agreement stressed the need for cooperation in the fight against extremism, intolerance, aggression and hostility among religions, races and ideologies that could lead to terrorism.

Both parties agreed to exchange information on the activities of scientific centers, cultural forums and websites.