The Royal Commission for AlUla launches an international concepts competition

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The Royal Commission for AlUla launches an international concepts competition
The ten proposals, which have been shortlisted from a long list of 40, will be exhibited at 21,39 Jeddah Arts, the annual art fair.

AL ULA.- An international jury, led by Royal College of Art Dean of Architecture Adrian Lahoud, has shortlisted ten architect-artist teams to create proposals for how a contemporary desert dwelling in the AlUla region in Saudi Arabia could be reimagined. The competition was open to emerging architects and creative practitioners as part of RCU’s cultural manifesto to nurture artistic expression.

AlUla’s history stretches back millennia. Inspired by the region’s significance as a bustling centre of intercultural exchange and creative ingenuity, The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) is inviting an international community of creative pioneers, across disciplines and continents, to come together to develop a cultural destination presented as an open museum in harmony with its landscape.

As an art project, Sculpting Spaces is an experiment in global creative thinking, providing a platform for emerging architects to collaborate with artists, enabling creative collisions inspired by the rich landscapes and heritage of AlUla.

Annette Gibbons-Warren, (Acting) Cultural Planning and Governance Director, comments:
“This project is very much an experiment in creativity that asks emerging architects to work with artists, drawing out their vision to conceive meaningful and functional spaces that are of and for AlUla – and we are simply delighted to be part of the 21,39 programme, one of Saudi’s most exciting art spaces. While there are currently no plans to develop these designs beyond these concepts – AlUla is a place that inspires artists to dream, and we wanted to share the creative visions of these wonderful collaborations as AlUla welcomes the world in 2020.”

The ten proposals, which have been shortlisted from a long list of 40, will be exhibited at 21,39 Jeddah Arts, the annual art fair. Each model and design will be installed in its own bespoke pod within the fair, allowing for detailed display. Proposals range from the desert rock-shaped cabin by Japanese team Yu Momoeda and Kohei Sasahara, to British practice AYA + Ajlan Gharem’s Desert Plinth and sculpture garden. The latter absorb every drop of desert rain and dew, storing the water in a cistern below the dwelling to create an eternal oasis.

The winning criteria were weighted towards the strength of the collaboration between the architects and the artists, and the response to the historical and natural context of AlUla. Technical requirements specified that each dwelling design should be a free-standing, single structure that incorporates a construction methodology driven by buildability, with a minimal impact on the landscape. The overall height of the structure could not exceed 5 metres, with a maximum of 60 sqm / 600 sq ft of internal space and include one bedroom and bathroom, a living space that allows for private dining, a terrace that provides shade and an open star-viewing platform. The brief also specified that the lodging should be a semi-permanent structure with an expected lifespan of at least 10 years. The building should be able to mitigate the extreme temperatures of the Saudi desert, incorporating innovative, energy-saving green technologies, specifically sustainable cooling strategies.

Looking to the future, Annette Gibbons-Warren comments:

“We are excited by where we can take projects such as this next, working closely with architects and artists to develop creative responses to the uniquely memorable landscape of AlUla, where art, heritage and nature meet.”

Working with multinational masterplanning teams, The Royal Commission for AlUla is delivering an essential cultural destination where the character and materiality of AlUla’s natural and historical assets are preserved, and act as a powerful source of inspiration for architects and artists - including the Sharaan resort, designed by Prizker-winning architect Jean Nouvel.

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