Architects Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan appointed for two major museums in AlUla, Saudi Arabia

Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan, courtesy Royal Commission for AlUla, photo by Luke Walker

Architects Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan appointed for two major museums in AlUla, Saudi Arabia

ALULA, Saudi Arabia, May 18, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) announces Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan as architects for two upcoming museums in its constellation of cultural assets. Ghotmeh will design the contemporary art museum and Khan will design the museum of the Incense Road. Both museums are situated in AlUla, a destination in northwest Arabia with 7,000 years of continuous human history.

Khan, who was awarded a MBE for his services to architecture and is currently working on the renewal of the Barbican Centre and the new London Museum, is known for his radical approach to architecture, which merges history with the future, grounding projects in material experimentation and social context.

Award winning Ghotmeh, who is designing the 2023 Serpentine Pavilion, creates work that sits at the intersection of art, architecture and design. Her practice is developed through a process of thorough historical research, emerging in complete symbiosis with nature as exquisite interventions that enliven memories and the senses.

The architects were chosen through an international competition. The jury comprised of key stakeholders and specialists in architecture, landscape and museology, supported by a technical panel, and was chaired by Dr Khaled Azzam, the architect of AlUla’s Journey Through Time Masterplan.

We are excited to announce the appointed architects to these two significant museums – the first of 15 cultural assets being developed as part of AlUla’s Journey Through Time Masterplan. AlUla is a spectacular landscape of discovery, where heritage, works of nature and humankind combine to reveal a long and intimate relationship between people and their environment. This Masterplan will guide the reinvigoration of AlUla establishing a new cultural legacy including the implementation of a circular economy expected to create 38,000 new jobs.

Dr Khaled Azzam – Architect, Journey Through Time Masterplan, Royal Commission for AlUla

The architecture of the contemporary art museum in AlUla immerses visitors in a creative journey from the desert expanse to the lush cultural oasis of AlUla, interweaving the natural environment, agriculture and art to reveal the heart of contemporary culture. Through a series of garden pavilions, the museum presents a constant interplay between art and nature, capturing the essence of this unique place. The galleries offer surprising and anchored perspectives on the many facets of AlUla, from the microclimates of the oasis to the expanse of the desert, evoking a deep sense of attachment to the land and its heritage.

Lina Ghotmeh, architect, contemporary art museum in AlUla

AlUla resonated with me deeply as did the local community members I met. The design takes the form of a public space, not a museum within walls, situated in AlJadidah village with galleries and spaces for sensory experiences and learning. The mountains are a constant background, whose sand dunes reach down to greet the edges of the museum, while stepped terraces of gardens act as a new interface between the village and the oasis. 

I am excited about how the museum of the Incense Road can be brought into the collective memory of the world, and become a transformative asset for the local community.

Asif Khan, architect, museum of the Incense Road

The contemporary art museum in AlUla is a museum of regional and global contemporary art with Arabia at its heart. Offering a core collection of works by artists from regions adjoining the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean in dialogue with their contemporaries from across the world, the collection aims to evolve in partnership with these artists, including a robust programme of commissioned works. As the primary art museum in AlUla, it contributes to the region’s legacy as a cultural beacon, generating opportunities for artists, designers, creatives and curators.

An adjoining series of artist-designed gardens will ensure the experience is connected to the landscape in which it sits. Integrated into the distinctive AlUla oasis, set amongst vegetable gardens, palm groves, mountain ranges and an ancient settlement, the museum will explore sensitive environmental design and function as a catalyst for environmental renewal and regeneration of the oasis. It will be structured as an archipelago of pavilion galleries interspersed with a mosaic of artist gardens. Its balance of interior and exterior galleries and gardens will allow visitors to define their own encounters both with art and the natural landscape.

The museum of the Incense Road will be the world’s first museum dedicated to this epic and millennia-old network of major land and sea trading routes, celebrating AlUla’s cultural legacy as a place of exchange at the confluence of civilisations. Bringing to life global histories, through which ideas, goods and culture were exchanged, it shines a light on north-west Arabia as a cultural epicentre. Living and dynamic narratives will include spotlighting the discoveries of ongoing excavations, highlighting the active nature of AlUla’s archaeological sites and the cultural importance of the Incense Road. At the forefront of innovative museum practice, it will enable visitors to engage through layered, multidisciplinary interpretation anchored by carefully curated collections.

The museum of the Incense Road is being developed in dialogue with AlUla’s ancient heritage – including Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site – and its host village, AlJadidah. It will be an extension of the urban fabric that sits towards the oasis edge, looking out on a vista where Dadan and Hegra – once vibrant cities that thrived as a result of the Incense Road – are located. Guided by subject experts and the local community, the museum of the Incense Road will continue to be developed through extensive local and international collaboration with specialists across fields including academia and museology.

Both museums offer a unique entry point into AlUla’s rich and extensive cultural offering and will be developed with a socially responsible approach to the preservation, interpretation, meaningful community engagement and presentation of AlUla’s cultural inheritance. They will consider how to reduce environmental impact while building meaningful spaces, particularly regarding conservation, controlled temperature, humidity and lighting, and will work with a network of cultural leaders at an institutional, thematic and discipline level in the spirit of reciprocal exchange.

Notes to editors

About AlUla:

Located 1,100 km from Riyadh, in north-west Saudi Arabia, AlUla is a place of extraordinary natural and human heritage. The vast area, covering 22,561km², includes a lush oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and ancient cultural heritage sites dating back thousands of years to when the Lihyan and Nabataean kingdoms reigned.

The most well-known and recognised site in AlUla is Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 52-hectare ancient city, Hegra was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom and comprises more than 100 well-preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut out of the sandstone outcrops surrounding the walled urban settlement. Current research also suggests Hegra was the most southern outpost of the Roman Empire after the Nabataeans were conquered in 106 CE.

In addition to Hegra, AlUla is home to fascinating historical and archaeological sites such as Ancient Dadan, the capital of the Dadan and Lihyan Kingdoms, which is considered one of the most developed 1st-millennium BCE cities of the Arabian Peninsula; thousands of ancient rock art sites and inscriptions at Jabal Ikmah; and AlUla Old Town, a labyrinth of more than 900 mudbrick homes developed from at least the 12th century.

About The Royal Commission for AlUla:

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was established by royal decree in July 2017 to protect and safeguard AlUla, a region of outstanding natural and cultural significance in north-west Saudi Arabia. RCU is embarking on a long-term plan to develop and deliver a sensitive, sustainable transformation of the region, reaffirming it as one of the country’s most important archaeological and cultural destinations and preparing it to welcome visitors from around the world. RCU’s development work in AlUla encompasses a broad range of initiatives across archaeology, tourism, culture, education and the arts, reflecting the ambitious commitment to cultivate tourism and leisure in Saudi Arabia, outlined in Vision 2030.

Lina Ghotmeh works and lives in Paris, where she leads her multidisciplinary practice Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture. Her visionary and materially sensitive works emerge in complete symbiosis with their environment while soliciting memory and senses.

Lina Ghotmeh is the nominated Architect for this year’s 22nd Serpentine Pavilion and her projects include Ateliers Hermès (first low carbon, energy positive building in France) delivered this April 2023, Stone Garden crafted tower and gallery spaces in Beirut (Dezeen Architecture of the year 2021 Prize), the Estonian National Museum (Grand Prix Afex 2016, project she designed in partnership with Dorell.Ghotmeh.Tane), Wonderlab Master crafts exhibition in Tokyo and Beijing & award winning Les Grands Verres restaurants for the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France.

She is the recipient of multiple awards including the 2020 Schelling Prize, the 2020 Tamayouz “Woman of Outstanding Achievement”, the French Fine Arts Academy Cardin Award 2019, the Architecture Academy Dejean 2016 and the French Ministry AJAP Prize in 2008. Her works have been exhibited at the 17th Architecture Biennale in Venice, at the MAXXI in Rome, and currently at the Cooper Hewitt in New York.  She is active in Academic life and was Louis I Khan professor at Yale and Gehry Chair at the University of Toronto.

Asif Khan founded his London-based practice in 2007, which designs buildings, landscapes, installations, exhibitions and objects. His work is concerned with sensory experience, craftsmanship, cultural exchange and the merging of history with future worlds.

Asif Khan is currently working on the Barbican Art Centre Renewal, the new London Museum, opening 2026, itself the largest cultural project in Europe, and Liverpool Canning Dock waterfront transformation, a site at the centre of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In 2020 he completed 6.5km of public realm design of Dubai Expo 2020, where his carbon-fibre Entry Portals received the Dezeen public award 2021 and nomination for the Aga Khan award for Architecture. He received the Grand Prix for Innovation (Cannes 2014) and Architect of the Year (German Design Council 2017).

His works have been exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, V&A, Milan Salone, Milan Triennale, Gwangju Design Biennale, the Design Museum, London, London Design Week, Tokyo Design Week, and currently at MAAT Lisbon. He has taught at the Royal College of Art and at Musashino Art University, Tokyo. Khan was awarded an MBE for Services to Architecture in 2017 and currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Design Museum in London.

Press contacts:

Vicky Newark
Pelham Communications

Sherif Elhalafawy
Royal Commission for AlUla

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