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Jean Nouvel: “Building in AlUla is a real responsibility”

French awarded architect Jean Nouvel has just published the concepts of his latest architectural project. "Sharaan by Jean Nouvel" is a world first for contextual architecture: a modern resort designed to fit into the natural landscape of AlUla (Saudi Arabia) made of sand and rocks. The project, expected to be completed in 2024, is deeply inspired by the ancient Nabatean civilization, will offer its visitors a personal glimpse of past civilisations deep within the rock formations.

Is it unusual to think of a resort in such a wild and historical landscape?

Being asked to build there is a real responsibility. What is special about Sharaan is that it is a pristine landscape. You discover shapes and – when you climb a little bit – you discover that, with the altimetry, you have cuts in the sky and in the horizons which are very different. So my project actually starts from there. We are obviously in one of the cradles of humanity. We are in a desert. And the desert always carries mystery, it is a symbol of eternity. It is AlUla and it is indeed an open-air museum.

How does “Sharaan by Jean Nouvel” fit into AlUla’s landscape?

My philosophy is to always work with what is there. When one is contextualist, which is my case, it is bascics. This richness of “all that is there” is indeed these rocky masses, it is this inertia, it is the water underneath.

To build there is to deepen the site, it is to give it one more quality, it is to orient a glance, and it is to use all that is there, it is to use all the qualities that are there. And I think that there is something here that needs to be revisited – in a modernity – which is “living in the rock”.

What makes this project unique?

Here we are in a very metaphysical, poetic dimension, on a geographical scale and in an awareness of a landscape or a world that we want to deepen, to make more sensitive. We don’t often have these conditions. Of course it creates something totally unique.