Alternative Futures for Al-`Ula, Saudi Arabia

The region of Al-`Ula, Saudi Arabia —  northwest of Medina, inland from the Red Sea, and along the ancient Mediterranean ‘incense route’ —  has been designated as a site for major tourist growth in coming decades. The regional landscape is characterized by dramatic wind-cut stone formations, summer temperature extremes, and scarce water; regional historic, cultural, and archaeological resources and attractions include the UNESCO World Heritage site at Mada’in Saleh with its monumental tombs cut from rock, and the uninhabited ruins of the medieval oasis town of Al-`Ula.

The surrounding desert ecosystem, awe-inspiring but vulnerable historic carved stone structures, the indigenous Bedouin community, culture, and agriculture, and burgeoning modern development all present opportunities and challenges for development, for archaeological tourism, for landscape conservation, and for climate-sensitive design. This studio will develop strategic plans and site-specific details for coexisting conservation and development in Al-`Ula, in the context of responsible international tourism, and global climate change. Appropriate technologies and approaches, such as extreme water conservation, ubiquitous solar energy systems, night-sky tourism, modern transportation alternatives, and agricultural/settlement design for hot-dry conditions, will be explored. Extensive GIS data for the region will be available, and some geospatial analysis using GIS tools will be expected as part of the process. Studio participants will tentatively visit the site for a week in late September, and subsequently develop programs and plans in light of a deepened appreciation for the ‘thickened ground’ and cultural/landscape dynamics, through individual and some group analysis and projects.

This studio will be a participating member of the International Geodesign Consortium (IGC) — a collaboration of approximately one hundred institutions/projects worldwide, engaged in studies of similar scope and style in fall 2018 — and as such will include several shared assumptions about future technologies and climate-change-related architectural, landscape, and urban-design responses, both socio-cultural and technological. Several exercises exploring geodesign techniques for evidence-based collaborative design will punctuate the schedule; and results from the studio will be exhibited as part of the February 2019 IGC Geodesign Summit meeting and exhibit in Redlands, California.