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Brits lined up for Saudi ‘giga-project’ Qiddiya

04 resort core aerial 1

British practices have been tapped up to help design elements of a multi-billion pound entertainment ‘giga project’ near Riyadh

WilkinsonEyre, Mangera Yvars Architects, Steve Chilton Architects, HOK, Populous and the London office of BIG are among 21 firms participating in a series of ‘design explorations’ for projects on the 3,400ha Qiddiya site  around 45km from the capital of Saudi Arabia.

International firms also participating in the 12 calls for concepts include BIG, Buro Ole Scheeren, MAD, Snøhetta, Arquitectonica, Morphosis, Coop Himmelb(l)au, 5+, CTRKL, Rockwell Group, Asymptote, Rosetti Architects, 10 Design and local firms Dar Al Omran and X Architects.

Commissions up for grabs include; a performing arts centre; a stadium; an arena; a resort parking area; a speed park stadium and hotel; a shopping, dining and entertainment area; an arts complex; an ice arena and festival ground; atrium space; an aquatic centre, Qiddiya bridge and a grand mosque.

Each of the 12 lots has three architects participating in its ‘design exploration’. The development, set to complete in 2035, will feature a mix of amusement parks, sports areas, car and bike trails, water parks, natural environments and cultural offers.

Qiddiya chief executive Michael Reininger downplayed the competitive nature of the current discussions with architects. ‘The word competition implies winners and losers,’ he said. ‘This is a design exploration because we are ultimately going to get a variety of perspectives and this will contribute to a visual vocabulary and an architectural language that we can use to compose lots of lots of buildings.

‘The scale of the project is enormous so some of the designers working on individual projects will end up with commissions to execute the work, but the wider professionals these people will have plenty of opportunities to help us bring Qiddiya to light. We are talking about some of the best talent in the world so we think there will be ample opportunities.’

Reininger said the predominance of London teams reflected the city’s role as a centre for talent in designing specialised facilities such as sports venues.

‘Every time I’m in London every one tells me it’s the design capital of the world,’ he said, ‘so you fish where the fish is.’ He added that consulting a wide range of architects was crucial because ‘you need a variety of points of view so the place you create is not a monolithic place.’

We are just scratching the surface at this point

Discussing additional future commissions, he added: ‘It’s hard to say exactly how many, we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of buildings of virtually every type you can imagine. We are certainly going to need more than 20 design firms. We are just scratching the surface at this point.’

Masterplanned by BIG, Qiddiya was one of three ‘giga projects’ announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016 as part of Saudi Vision 2030. The initiative aims to diversify the economy beyond oil and meet the needs of the kingdom’s growing population which is 66 per cent under 35.

Andreas Pedersens, partner and design director at BIG’s London office said the project was designed around a compact walkable city core featuring narrow shaded streets and a ‘modern vernacular type of urbanism and architecture much more adapted to the climate the heat of the sun we would have in the Middle East.’

He argued that the hot and dry site – where temperatures reached 47 Celsius today – was climatically comparable to other global leisure destinations such as Walt Disney World Florida and would not discourage visitors.

The Qiddiya project – which expects to receive around 1.5 million visitors annual when its first phase opens in 2022 – aims to capture the estimated $30 million currently spent every year by Saudis on entertainment abroad in places such as Dubai.

It will create the world’s largest entertainment, sports and cultural resort surpassing Walt Disney World in Florida and will include around 11,000 residential units.

The other giga projects include the $500 billion NEOM smart city and a new Red Sea resort known as Amaala.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Does anyone here remember Architects Declare? Seems like a long time ago now.

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  • Looking at the image, I hope Michael Reininger and Andreas Pedersens remember that wadis flow every now and then - otherwise they might find themselves getting chopped up as a lesson to others.

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  • I do “Declare”, how beautifully this meets the sustainability agenda (not).

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  • In order to address the Architects declare agenda, I would have thought all of the architectural practices involved would be more than happy to commit to basing their entire projects team in Saudi Arabia for the duration of the project in order to minimise travel by air.

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