Saudi Arabia's The Line UK and US Architecture Firms Vie for Design Role Amid Controversies

Saudi Arabia’s The Line: UK and US Architecture Firms Vie for Design Role Amid Controversies

Find the latest developments in Saudi Arabia’s The Line megaproject as the top UK and US architecture firms compete for design roles. Learn about the controversies and key players involved.

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious The Line megaproject continues to draw attention and controversy as prominent UK and US architecture firms compete for design roles.

The project, part of the $1.5 trillion Neom development, aims to revolutionize urban living along the Red Sea coast.

Despite setbacks and allegations, the race to shape the first phase of this visionary city intensifies.

Key Players and Their Roles

Prominent UK architecture practices like Assael Architecture, AHMM, PLP Architecture, and SimpsonHaugh are vying to contribute to The Line’s initial segment, the 2.4km-long Hidden Marina.

These firms aim to design common elements or individual vertical neighborhoods within the project.

The Hidden Marina is planned to feature three modules, each housing eight vertical neighborhoods. Twenty-four international practices are still in contention for design work.

Departure of US Firm Morphosis

Amidst the competition, US-based Morphosis Architects has withdrawn from its leading role in the project.

The firm was initially involved in the proposed 170km-long linear city but exited due to undisclosed reasons.

Austrian firm Delugan Meissl Associated Architects (DMAA) is believed to have taken over Morphosis’s role, though neither firm has commented on the transition.

UK Firms’ Continued Involvement

Other notable UK firms involved in The Line include Weston Williamson + Partners, Gensler, Mott MacDonald, AtkinsRéalis, and Aecom.

Despite the changes and challenges, these firms remain engaged in the project and contribute to various aspects of the city’s development.

Workforce Reductions and Reassignments

Recently, engineering giant Bechtel laid off around 300 workers from the high-speed rail line project, dubbed the Spine, designed by Weston Williamson + Partners.

The workers have been reassigned within Neom’s broader development efforts.

A Neom spokesperson described this as ‘resource redeployment,’ a common industry practice, and emphasized that workforce numbers might fluctuate as needed.

Controversies and Human Rights Allegations

The Line has been under scrutiny due to allegations of human rights abuses.

The United Nations raised concerns in 2023 about the potential execution of three tribe members arrested for opposing the project’s construction.

Human rights organization ALQST reported that at least one person, Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, was killed in 2020 for protesting against the displacement of tribal villages for Neom.

Mixed Signals on Project Scaling

Rumors have circulated about a potential scaling back of The Line’s ambitious plans.

Bloomberg reported in April that the projected number of residents by 2030 was revised from 1.5 million to 300,000.

Despite this, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the chairman of Neom, maintains that the first phase of The Line will be completed within the next six years.

Official Statements and Future Prospects

In response to these developments, a Neom spokesperson reaffirmed that the long-term plan remains unchanged.

They highlighted significant progress in creating the logistics infrastructure necessary for the project’s advanced construction operations.

Neom aims to welcome its first residents and visitors by 2030.

Impact on Architecture and Global Perception

The involvement of prominent architecture firms in The Line underscores the project’s significance in the global architectural landscape.

However, the controversies surrounding human rights and ethical considerations pose challenges for these firms.

As Peter Frankental of Amnesty International UK pointed out, firms must conduct thorough due diligence, particularly regarding labor practices among subcontractors and supply chains.

Key Firms Involved in The Line Megaproject

Firm NameRoleStatus
Assael ArchitectureDesign of vertical neighborhoodsCompeting
AHMMCommon design elements/vertical neighborhoodsCompeting
PLP ArchitectureCommon design elements/vertical neighborhoodsCompeting
SimpsonHaughCommon design elements/vertical neighborhoodsCompeting
Morphosis ArchitectsInitial lead on The LineWithdrew
Delugan Meissl Associated ArchitectsPotential new lead on The LineInvolved
Weston Williamson + PartnersDesign of the Spine high-speed rail lineInvolved
GenslerVarious design rolesInvolved
Mott MacDonaldVarious design rolesInvolved
AtkinsRéalisVarious design rolesInvolved
AecomVarious design rolesInvolved

Conclusion

As The Line megaproject progresses, it remains a focal point of architectural innovation and controversy.

The involvement of leading UK and US firms highlights the global interest in shaping this groundbreaking city.

However, ethical considerations and human rights issues continue overshadowing the project’s ambitious vision.

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