Dezeen Magazine

Jean Nouvel reveals cave hotel in Saudi Arabia's AlUla desert

French architect Jean Nouvel has unveiled the design for a subterranean hotel that will be carved into a sandstone hill in the AlUla desert in Saudi Arabia.

Named Sharaan by Jean Nouvel, the resort will be cut into the sandstone hills in the AlUla area of Saudi Arabia, which is around 220 miles north of the city of Medina and contains the Madâin Sâlih UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sharaan by Jean Nouvel
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel hotel in Saudi Arabia

According to the architect, the subterranean resort was informed by the nearby UNESCO World Heritage site where the remains of a Nabataean city can be found.

The Nabataean people occupied the Arabian Desert in between the second and fourth century BC and carved cities, including Petra in Jordan, into the area's sandstone rock.

The Sharaan by Jean Nouvel Resort in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia
The hotel will have a circular entrance courtyard

"AlUla is a museum," said Nouvel. "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," he continued. "We have to safeguard a little mystery as well as the promise of discoveries to come."

Sandstone-walled hotel room
Rooms will be carved into the sandstone cliff

Sharaan by Jean Nouvel will contain 40 rooms and three resort villas that will be cut into a cliff face, with each suite having a balcony that looks out across the surrounding landscape.

The hotel's entrance will be from a circular courtyard that will be carved into the sandstone hillside. From here a series of rooms will be arranged around a central 80-metre high lift shaft.

Sharaan by Jean Nouvel hotel lift shaft
An 80-metre high lift shaft will connect the floors

Each of the suites will have sandstone walls that are aimed at creating a direct connection with the former Nabataean city.

"Our project should not jeopardise what humanity and time have consecrated," said Nouvel.

"Our project is celebrating the Nabateans spirit without caricaturing it. This creation genuinely becomes a cultural act."

Sharaan by Jean Nouvel
Rooms will have views across the AlUla desert

The development of the resort forms part of The Royal Commission for AlUla's plan to encourage global tourism in the area. Nouvel hopes that the modern hotel will celebrate the area's legacy.

"AlUla deserves to acquire a degree of modernity," said Nouvel.

"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," continued Nouvel.

Hotel bedroom with sandstone walls
Suites will have sandstone walls

Nouvel is a French architect who won the Pritzer Prize in 2008. His studio has previously completed several buildings in the Middle East, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and the National Museum of Qatar in Qatar.

More images

The Sharaan by Jean Nouvel Resort in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel