The mirrored megacity planned for the Saudi Arabian desert will set a new standard for life in urban areas and be net-zero over its lifetime, argues developer Neom’s executive director for urban planning Tarek Qaddumi in this exclusive interview.
“Irrespective of its physical stature, it will end up demonstrating that the world has the human capacity, the technology and the commitment to revolutionise our current way of life,” he told Dezeen.
The Line “rethinks our urban life”
The Line is an enormous linear megastructure with mirrored cladding that is planned for a 170-kilometre stretch across the Saudi Arabian desert.
If built – as Qaddumi claims it will be – it could house nine million people.
At 500 metres tall and 200 metres wide, it will form a key part of Neom – a renewable energy-powered region under development across Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.
According to Qaddumi, The Line “rethinks our urban life from the ground up” and offers an alternative to traditional city models that fan out from a central point. This means its footprint will be just 34 square kilometres, making all daily needs accessible within a five-minute walk.
The director added that this linear layout will serve as a remedy for the many issues faced by modern cities, such as car hegemony, air pollution and urban sprawl.
“Neom has the opportunity to build a greenfield city that will not have such problems to start with,” Qaddumi explained.
“The Line will have no cars, no pollution and will provide access to people and services in ways previously unimaginable.”
Neom exploring carbon sequestration
The Line is also “committed to being a net-zero carbon city”, Qaddumi added.
To be net-zero, a structure must eliminate all possible emissions over its lifetime. This includes both embodied carbon emissions, which are caused by the construction supply chain, and operational carbon emissions, which are caused by a structure’s usage.
Academic Philip Oldfield previously told Dezeen that he expected the “vast embodied carbon” associated with building The Line to “overwhelm any environmental benefits that a small footprint provides”.
Qaddumi claimed that Neom has a team dedicated to research into “green construction material” to ensure the products with the least embodied carbon are selected. The city will also be powered by renewable energy.
For the carbon emissions that cannot be avoided, the development will also employ technologies that remove atmospheric carbon.
“Whatever carbon emissions are released from the manufacturing and delivery of the structural elements will be entirely balanced out,” he asserted.
“The Line construction will also be complemented by carbon offsetting and carbon sequestration, such as capturing CO2.”
“Nature corridors” to be built into design
Oldfield also shared concerns over the structure’s impact on biodiversity, but Qaddumi said efforts to protect local wildlife are also key to the linear city’s design.
“Unlike conventional cities, The Line will ensure that nature is not watered down as it crosses the urban fabric and instead, that it is kept intact, witnessed, enjoyed and celebrated,” he said.
One design feature prompting fears for wildlife is The Line’s mirrored facade. This is because reflective surfaces are understood to be one of the biggest causes of bird deaths each year.
Qaddumi said The Line will be designed against this, with facade treatments that prevent collisions and “nature corridors” that align with migratory bird paths.
“These exact migration paths and patterns are being mapped by a dedicated team of scientists over the next few years,” he said.
“Birds that fly at different heights will also have their designated nature corridors that are designed in combination with the right glass treatment,” he explained.
Among the glass treatments that Qaddumi expects to be used in the project are ceramic frits, which are among the most common ways to make buildings more bird-friendly.
Piling work for first phase has begun
Some commentators have questioned whether The Line will ever really be built.
However, Qaddumi claimed that the feasibility studies are complete, adding that piling work for the first phase has already begun.
“There is no denying the scale and ambition of the project,” he concluded. “That said, The Line’s construction and financial feasibility studies are complete.”
He said the team is now working with “the world’s leading universities and urban research organisations” to improve the design through technologies such as digital twins, where a virtual clone of a project is made to inform decision making.
Neom’s team is also exploring digitised and modular building techniques that it hopes will help minimise build time and the environmental impact of construction.
“One way the design will evolve is through moving the construction process from conventional contracting to a more robust delivery system more commonly used in manufacturing,” he concluded.
The Line is planned by Saudia Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and is understood to have been designed by US studio Morphosis, though this has not been formally announced.
It is one of the latest examples of ambitious high-tech cities being developed around the world to challenge issues such as the housing crisis and climate change.
Elsewhere, Danish studio BIG is developing a 1,821-hectare development with three artificial islands built off the shore of Malaysia, while OMA is developing a car-free city in China with a “smart mobility network” that will utilise automated vehicles.