The choices that define Qiddiya’s master plan

05 December 2019
Updated 05 December 2019

The choices that define Qiddiya’s master plan

A plan is a reaction to a challenge. In the modern history of Saudi Arabia, master plans have reacted to important challenges such as rapid growth and the rise of the automobile. These plans were not perfect, but they paved the way for progress.

In designing the master plan for Qiddiya, Saudi Arabia’s capital of entertainment, sports and the arts, our planners have applied the lessons of the past as they respond to a new challenge: The challenge of choice. It is a positive challenge that is also a great opportunity. Before discussing our master plan, which this year has moved from design to implementation, let us look back at how planners reacted to the first two challenges mentioned above.

Saudi history pivoted on March 3, 1938, when geologists tapped the world’s biggest oil deposit near Dammam. But already the year before, as the search for oil sped up, the country’s leaders had taken steps to prepare for economic growth.

A royal order in 1937 that set forth the responsibilities of municipalities “was perhaps the first seminal step which formally prompted the emergence of urban planning in Saudi Arabia,” according to a 1985 paper by Saudi administrator and academic Saleh Al-Hathloul and UN planning specialist Anis Ur Rahmaan.

Planning in this period emphasized grid layouts, which are easily expandable and therefore well-suited to rapid growth. This era would culminate in 1973 with approval of the Doxiadis Master Plan of Riyadh and its “supergrid” design for the capital.

But it all came at a cost. Grids clashed with traditional Saudi town layouts, which were denser and less linear. In Alkhobar, write Al-Hathloul and Rahmaan by way of example, “earlier development was treated as insignificant and structures were demolished to open up the new streets.”

Soon after came the rising challenge of the automobile. Again, the planners’ response carried a cost for traditional layout features. “The introduction of cars and shortage of adequate public transportation systems also led to replacing the narrow alleyways with wide streets. Despite these efforts, these roads were still not wide enough,” Oumr Adnan Osra and Paul Jones of the University of Sydney wrote in a conference paper last year.

We will respect the natural environment. Of Qiddiya’s 334 sq. km, 231 sq. km (70 percent) will become an eco-zone dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of our stunning surroundings. Where we do build, we will sculpt our city in harmony with our setting.

Kareem Shamma

The rise of the car is a challenge that cities worldwide have confronted with difficulty. In Jeddah, the Sydney professors noted, “most public spaces have been transformed into parking areas.”

Today, once again, Saudi Arabia is in a time of change. But this time the transformation is social as well as economic. Vision 2030 contains the challenges and opportunities of choice as it reshapes the nation. Vision 2030 is the reason for projects such as Qiddiya, where the youthful people of Saudi Arabia can fulfill the universal desire for enriching experiences.

At Qiddiya, our guests will be able to choose new leisure activities, new sports regimens, new artistic pursuits and new professional pathways. Qiddiya will be a place of immense choice; the challenge for our planners — working in conjunction with Bjarke Ingels Group — was to marry this monumental ambition to a human scale.

Qiddiya will be pedestrian-friendly. This place is made for walking. Our Resort Core opening in 2023 will be threaded together by two intertwined pedestrian experiences: One an urban promenade, the other a landscaped parkway. These walkways are baked into our DNA.

Visitors to Qiddiya will arrive at strategically located parking structures and a bus/taxi drop-off that connect with the walkways for access to our various parks and attractions. In the Resort Core, these will include a thrill park, water-themed park, speed park and shopping and dining precinct. Cars have their place, but at Qiddiya pedestrians have primacy.

We will respect the natural environment. Of Qiddiya’s 334 sq. km, 231 sq. km (70 percent) will become an eco-zone dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of our stunning surroundings. Where we do build, we will sculpt our city in harmony with our setting.

The majority of phase-one development will be shaped by the natural terrain and the primary circulation network. For example, our Festival Grounds amphitheater will have surround sound shaped by the face of the Tuwaiq escarpment itself.

 

Conclusion

In its own way, our master plan expresses an idea that is famous among urban planners. This idea is attributed to Daniel Burnham, best known for his Plan of Chicago, but who also designed buildings and cities in the UK and the Philippines. Burnham said: “Make no little plans; they have no magic.”

Our plan is big, and we hope it has more than a little magic in it. The future will bring new challenges, and new ways of planning to meet them. But at Qiddiya, we believe our master plan, respectful of nature and people, will stand the test of time.

 

Kareem Shamma is Qiddiya’s chief development officer.