Master builders have always needed a great deal of courage, ambition, and self-confidence to get projects off the ground that most of their peers would rather not touch with a ten-foot pole. Otherwise, the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Eiffel Tower would never have stood a chance. This pattern can also be seen in large-scale projects of modern architecture on the Arabian Peninsula. A thriving megacity in the middle of the desert, with artificial intelligence giving architects, urban planners, and landscape designers a helping hand? A metropolis powered one hundred percent by renewable energy, with neither cars nor roads, but instead sophisticated algorithms that take care of the needs of the city’s inhabitants, the microclimate, and building management? Where virtuality is a part of everyday life? In a few years, you will be able to see it in practice in the northwest of Saudi Arabia and in the capital, Riyadh.
The linear city “The Line” is nothing less than a revolution in urban planning
This sounds like an outlandish fantasy at first: But the global megatrends of “Future Mobility” and “Sustainability”, which DEKRA as a testing organization is also strategically driving forward, are being implemented there in a revolutionary way on the drawing board. For DEKRA experts, concepts like this – even though they are not actively involved in them themselves – are not unexpected: They have already identified similar patterns in other major projects in the past.
So welcome to “The Line”, the centerpiece of Neom – a gigantic planned city with a technology park and luxury resort complex, located at the lower end of the Gulf of Aqaba and along the coast of the Red Sea. First presented as a design in early 2021, The Line is a so-called linear city, which, at first glance, looks like a structure drawn with a ruler into the landscape. The key data are spectacular: The Line will be 500 meters high and 200 meters wide – and extend over a length of 170 kilometers. In principle, it is a series of skyscrapers connected to each other by bridges, intended to form an ecological system. A study published in early February 2023 by the Canadian Center of Science and Education describes The Line as an evolution from the conventional city to three-dimensional neighborhoods. People in it will move freely in all dimensions: vertically, horizontally, and diagonally.
Zero Gravity Urbanism strives for sustainable human progress
In the final stage of expansion, expected for 2045, The Line will offer space for around nine million people. This is equivalent to the population of New York, except the linear city will make do with only about four percent of the land area of the American metropolis. The concept behind this design is called Zero Gravity Urbanism – a theory of urban design that seeks a balance between conservation, quality of life, and sustainable human progress. Relevant images and videos show completely mirrored exterior walls along the entire length of the building, allowing natural light to filter through to the interior. The interior is dominated by floating structures and organic forms with colorful trees and plants.
The open areas extend to different levels and provide a view of the surrounding natural landscape. Easily recognizable in the renderings calculated by artificial intelligence are the industrially manufactured modules that house apartments, schools, and workplaces. The city’s inhabitants’ mobility is also ensured: All routes to work and public facilities shall be manageable within five minutes on foot or by elevator. For further travel, a high-speed train is available in the city’s lower level, which can take passengers from one end of the city to the other within 20 minutes.
The future landmark of Riyadh’s new downtown is a gigantic cube
The plans for the new city center “New Murabba” in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, which were presented in February 2023, are hardly less spectacular than The Line. The centerpiece and landmark of the 19-square-kilometer ecologically oriented city center project is “The Mukaab” – a giant cube with a side length of 400 meters that would be able to accommodate more than a dozen skyscrapers on the scale of the Empire State Building. However, The Mukaab uses the space in a different way. At the center of the cube is a spiral tower containing apartments, offices, cinemas, and hotels. Around this tower arches a huge dome with a ground surface area of around two square kilometers. Yet it is not just the sheer size of the cube that is likely to inspire awe, but its completely new technological approach.
According to presentations on the project, the latest advances in virtual reality will be used in its construction. The dome contains an immersive projection system that uses holographic technologies to create virtual worlds that overlap with reality. Visitors can, for example, walk on alien planets or in underwater landscapes. Will The Line and The Mukaab be a blueprint for the city of the future? History teaches that failure is a possibility for even the greatest of builders. But if all goes according to plan, the projects should be largely completed by 2030. In any case, construction work on The Line has already begun.