Famous French architect Jean Nouvel has unveiled the conceptual plans for a new cave hotel in the deserts of Saudi Arabia near AlUla. The designs are inspired by the Nabataeans, the ancient civilization that built rock-cut tombs in nearby Hegra as well as their capital city of Petra, in modern-day Jordan. Hegra was the first place in Saudi Arabia included on Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Like the architect’s other projects, the resort, called Sharaan by Jean Nouvel, takes inspiration from the surrounding environment, and the hotel will be cut into the sandstone cliffs within the Sharaan Nature Reserve.

Jean Nouvel's design for the inner courtyard at AlUla
A rendering of the inner courtyard at AlUla © Commission AlUla

"Our project should not jeopardize what humanity and time have consecrated’, Nouvel said. ‘It must celebrate the Nabataeans’ designs and genius without caricaturing it. This act of creation becomes a true cultural act." The resort will be designed with sustainability and cultural respect in mind, and the architect hopes to blend past and present in harmony with the natural space.

"AlUla is a museum,’ Nouvel said. ‘Every wadi and escarpment, every stretch of sand and rocky outline, every geological and archeological 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."

A view over Sharaan from inside the resort
Design displaying the view from within the resort over the landscape of Sharaan © Royal Commission AlUla

The resort will have 40 suites and three villas carved into the cliff face, with private balconies looking onto the desert landscape. The rooms will be arranged around an 80m-long lift shaft, and the hotel’s entrance will be cut into a circular shape from the sandstone. Nouvel’s resort project in AlUla was announced in 2019 and is expected to be completed by 2024.

Nouvel’s architecture firm has put its stamp on the Middle East in recent years, with much-lauded openings including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, with its already iconic ‘rain of light’ dome, and the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, which is modeled after a desert rose, a crystalline rock cluster that’s shaped like blooming flowers.

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