arts and design

Saudi Arabia plans 100-mile-long mirrored skyscraper complex for megacity


A futuristic Saudi megacity is to feature two skyscrapers extending across a swathe of desert and mountain terrain, according to the latest disclosures on the project by the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

The parallel structures of mirror-encased skyscrapers extending more than 100 miles, known collectively as the Line, form the heart of the Red Sea megacity Neom, a plank of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to diversify the Gulf state’s oil-dependent economy.

First announced in 2017, Neom has consistently raised eyebrows due to proposed flourishes such as flying taxis and robot maids, even as architects and economists have questioned its feasibility.

Long mirror-encased skyscrapers stretching from sea.
The Line is envisaged as a linear city just 200 metres wide made up of two long mirror-encased skyscrapers. Photograph: Neom/AFP/Getty Images

In a presentation on Monday night, Prince Mohammed sketched out an even more ambitious vision, describing a car-free utopia that would become the planet’s most livable city “by far”.

Analysts noted, though, that plans for Neom had changed course over the years, fuelling doubts about whether the Line will ever become a reality.

Neom was once touted as a regional “Silicon Valley”, a biotech and digital hub spread over about 10,000 sq miles (26,000 sq km).

Lots fo trees and mist inside structure.
Planners say it would have a year-round temperate micro-climate with natural ventilation. Photograph: Neom/AFP/Getty Images

Now it’s a vehicle for reimagining urban life on a footprint of just 13 sq miles (34 sq km), addressing what Prince Mohammed describes as “liveability and environmental crises”.

“The concept has morphed so much from its early conception that it’s sometimes hard to determine its direction: scaling down, scaling up, or making an aggressive turn sideways,” said Robert Mogielnicki of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

Officials had earlier said Neom’s population would top 1 million, but Prince Mohammed said the number would actually hit 1.2 million by 2030, before climbing to 9 million by 2045.

The Line seen from far above.
The Line would extend for more than 100 miles into Saudi Arabia from the Red Sea. Photograph: Neom/AFP/Getty Images

The eye-popping total is part of a hoped-for nationwide population boom that Prince Mohammed said would be necessary to make Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, an economic powerhouse.

The goal for 2030 is to have 50 million people – half Saudis and half foreigners – living in the kingdom, up from roughly 34 million today.

By 2040 the target was 100 million people, he said.

“That’s the main purpose of building Neom, to raise the capacity of Saudi Arabia, get more citizens and more people in Saudi Arabia. And since we are doing it from nothing, why should we copy normal cities?”

Rowing team on water beneath skyscrapers on either side.
Prince Mohammed said the city would be car-free. Photograph: Neom/AFP/Getty Images

The site will be powered by 100% renewable energy and feature “a year-round temperate micro-climate with natural ventilation”, according to a promotional video released on Monday.

Past environmental pledges by the kingdom, such as a vow to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2060, have sparked scepticism from environmentalists.

Saudi Arabia releases short teaser trailer for futuristic skyscraper complex the Line – video

Neom is well positioned to harness solar and wind energy, and plans are also afoot for the city to host the world’s largest green hydrogen plant, said Torbjorn Soltvedt, an analyst at the risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

“But the feasibility of Neom as a whole is still unclear given the unprecedented scale and cost of the project,” he said.

At just 200 metres wide, the Line is intended to be Saudi Arabia’s answer to unchecked and wasteful urban sprawl, layering homes, schools and parks on top of each other in what planners call “zero-gravity urbanism”.

Residents would have ‘all daily needs’ reachable within a five-minute walk.
Residents would have ‘all daily needs’ reachable within a short walk. Photograph: Neom/AFP/Getty Images

Residents will have “all daily needs” reachable within a five-minute walk, while also having access to other perks, such as outdoor skiing facilities and “a high-speed rail with an end-to-end transit of 20 minutes”, according to a statement.

Though Neom will operate under its own founding law, which is still being prepared, Saudi officials say they have no plans to waive the kingdom’s alcohol ban.

An airport is already operational at Neom, and authorities announced in May they would begin receiving regular flights from Dubai, but it remains unclear whether major construction of the megacity itself has commenced.

Couple with camping gear sat on rock looking into valley of skyscrapers.
The Line is to form the heart of the Red Sea megacity Neom, which Prince Mohammed said would be home to 1.2 million people by 2030. Photograph: Neom/AFP/Getty Images

Neom said on Tuesday it would create 380,000 jobs by the end of the decade “while providing the ultimate work-life balance”.

The “first phase” of the project, lasting until 2030, would cost 1.2tn Saudi riyals (about £265bn), Prince Mohammed said.

Besides government subsidies, potential sources of funding included the private sector and an initial public offering for Neom expected in 2024, he said.

Securing the necessary financing remains a potential challenge, though the current climate is more favourable than during the coronavirus pandemic, which lowered oil prices.

“But funding is only part of the equation … demand is harder to buy, especially when you’re asking people to be part of an experiment on living and working in the future,” Mogielnicki said.



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