Urban – The 200 m-wide and 170 km-long metropolis aims to redefine the concept of urban development and what future cities could look like. Infamous radical collective Superstudio envisioned a similar sci-fi utopia 50 years ago. But how smart is it to design a brand-new city in the middle of the desert before finding 9 million inhabitants eager to move there?
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THE LINE – The linear metropolis consists of two ‘continuous’ wall-like and 500-metre-tall skyscrapers sandwiching all the city’s functions – from residential areas to offices, schools and parks. “The designs for the city’s vertically layered communities will challenge the traditional flat, horizontal cities and create a model for nature preservation and enhanced human livability.” Said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Indeed, a smart transport system running the length of the two megastructures will connect both ends of the city within 20 minutes. According to the Saudi Arabian government, THE LINE will be entirely powered by renewable energy. It will have an outer mirror facade allowing its small footprint to blend with the nature of the surrounding desert.
The interior will feature multiple bridges connecting the skyscrapers, while parks and roof gardens will contribute to the city’s unique character. The city will be divided into nodes so that all daily services will be reachable within a 5-minute walk. A rail system reaching a speed of 512 Km/h will allow people to go from one side of the city to the other in 20 minutes.
THE LINEAR CITY vs THE CONTINUOUS MONUMENT – In 1972, the Italian collective Superstudio showcased its radical architecture vision at MoMA in New York. The exhibition featured the Continuous Monument project, an unstoppable monolithic architecture running through and imposing itself on deserts, the Grand Canyon and Lower Manhattan. Does it ring a bell?
Could do. Actually, the utopian Continuous Monument aimed to question the uniformity of modern architecture, linear and minimalistic, considered a tool of capitalism causing the uncontrolled urban erosion of the natural landscape. “In the West man is a prisoner of architecture. Therefore, we attacked architecture,” said Superstudio co-founder Gian Piero Frassinelli. Instead, THE LINE is part of the NEOM project, a 500 billion dollars “living laboratory” near the Red Sea aiming to put Saudi Arabia on the global map as a post-oil era country. Both visionary, yes – but with opposite purposes.
THE CITY BEFORE ITS RESIDENTS – So far, Saudi Arabia has relied on its oil-driven economy, but the world is changing fast. In times of energy crisis, Climate Change and shifting geopolitics, the country aims to reposition itself as a new global innovation player that is now opening to the world. The NEOM project and THE LINE metropolis respond to this task.
But will building a brand-new Sci-Fi city do the job? Generally, cities develop organically by responding to people’s needs. THE LINE’s master plan is imposed starting from specific needs selected and prioritized by experts. NEOM promises “a city where the best and the brightest live. A place of unparalleled social and economic experimentation – without pollution and traffic accidents – coupled with world-class preventative healthcare.” Building a city and then hoping the expected residents will want to move there is as risky as ambitious. Brazilia can teach something.
Master planned by Lucio Costa with iconic palaces by Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil’s capital is a jewel of contemporary architecture. Yet, its visionary aesthetics are perfect for corporate and diplomatic purposes but very impractical for everyday living. Satellite, human-scaled and affordable cities were born to compensate for the lack of street life in Brazilia downtown.
The future city is still in an early stage of development. Indeed, the announced global architecture firms involved haven’t been revealed yet. The project is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 project, which Saudi Arabia claims will create 380,000 jobs and add $48 billion to the country’s GDP. The estimated building cost is US$100–200 billion – with some estimates as high as $1 trillion. So far, it seems too early to see if the 170 km-long metropolis will become a reality or remains a vision.
Images and video by ©NEOM, unless stated otherwise.
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