Famous architect Jean Nouvel is working on a world-first 'masterpiece' resort hidden within the rock dwellings of AlUla. Set to be completed by 2024, the Sharaan by Jean Nouvel resort will include 40 guest suites and three resort villas. A retreat summit centre near the resort will feature 14 private pavilions.
Located deep within the Sharaan Nature Reserve, the designs draw on the nearby Nabataean wonders of Hegra, Saudi Arabia's first Unesco World Heritage Site. In a world-first, this 2,000-year-old architectural legacy is being revived by Jean Nouvel for potentially the first time since the Nabataeans carved into the region's millions-of-years-old sandstone rock.
“Our project should not jeopardise what humanity and time have consecrated. Our project is celebrating the Nabateans spirit without caricaturing it. This creation genuinely becomes a cultural act”
- Jean Nouvel
As the concepts were unveiled, architect Jean Nouvel described AlUla as "The coming together of a landscape and history; The history of past civilisations in an extraordinary landscape – the only place to create such a masterpiece."
Nouvel emphasised the importance of preserving such a unique landscape: "AlUla 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."
Nouvel's commitment to respecting AlUla's landscape and ancient heritage has not meant shying away from modern architectural ideas. "AlUla deserves to acquire a degree of modernity," he suggests. "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."
Jean Nouvel explains how he's adapting old ways of life to our modern world, minimising the impacts on natural and urban landscapes. To do this Nouvel has introduced a new typology of architecture never seen before, using abstraction, sculpting within the landscape itself rather than competing with it. Inspired by the Nabateans, it plays on the old ways of living to build on the present and meet the challenges of the future. Jean Nouvel integrates the way Nabateans interacted with their environment, both verticality and horizontality, to reconnect to the earth and build sustainable habitats, away from the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.
Nouvel views this resort as an opportunity to bring to life a strong spatial, sensorial and emotional experience on the borders of nature, architecture and art – where the sound, musicality, harshness, tactility, power and complexity of nature are everywhere, from finely chopped stones on balconies to the singular granularity of each rock wall, all becomes an artwork in itself.
"Our project should not jeopardise what humanity and time have consecrated," emphasises Nouvel, "Our project is celebrating the Nabateans spirit without caricaturing it. This creation genuinely becomes a cultural act."