Saudi Arabia unveils plans for the Mukaab – a mega skyscraper in Riyadh

Just when we thought we had seen all that was possible in hotel development from the plans in Saudi Arabia, along comes the Mukaab, a huge cubic structure able to shelter 20 Empire State Buildings inside. The project is expected change the face and landscape of Riyadh with claims of it being one of the largest built structures in the world. Editor Hamish Kilburn and writer Pauline Brettall try to make sense of the renders…

proposed design of the Mukaab cube skyscraper in Riyadh

Timid, Subtle and conventional, said nobody, ever, when describing the hotel development scene in Saudi Arabia. Wasting no time for the world to catch its breath since announcing that the country would welcome a 106-mile mirrored city that is roughly the size of Belgium, the government has once again made the impossible possible with the unveiling of its next headline-grabbing development. Cue the arrival of The Mukaab, which, from its dramatic renders, could easily be mistaken for a hotel development on Mars. The Mukaab will be built by the New Murabba Development Company (NMDC), a company that is owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and has been launched to develop the New Murabba Project.

Despite the sheer size of the development, which will shelter a plethora of hospitality and entertainment venues, The Mukaab will apparently be built around the ‘concept of sustainability’, featuring green areas and walking and cycling paths that will, according to the developers, ‘enhance the quality of life by promoting healthy, active lifestyles and community activities’. However, the structure of the Mukaab – and the materials needed to build it – may suggest otherwise. The development that is anything but low-key will, when it is built, one of the largest built structures in the world, standing 400 metres high, 400 metres wide and 400 metres long – the enormous cubic shape will be able to contain 20 Empire State Buildings.

But it’s not just about size. Inspired by the modern Najdi architectural style, which has its roots in the traditional architecture of the region, the Mukaab will be the world’s first immersive destination, offering an experience created by digital and virtual technology with the latest holographics. The structure will envelop two million square metres of floor space that will be premium hospitality real estate, with a multitude of retail, cultural and tourist attractions, along with residential and hotel units, commercial spaces and recreational facilities. In addition, it will shelter a museum, a technology and design university, a multipurpose immersive theatre and more than 80 entertainment and culture venues.

artist impression of the Murabba project with the Saudi Mukaab at its centre

Image credit: NMDC

The Mukaab joins The Line by Neom as one of the Saudi Arabia government’s mega projects aimed to diversify the oil-dependant economy. Both projects claim green and sustainable credentials, which would still need to be substantiated as design and construction unfolds. What they have in common, though, is that both currently on-the-boards structures divide opinion. On the one hand, many admire the sheer scale and ambition of these developments, but it is precisely that scale and ambition that raises questions and criticism among others who have taken to social media to question the social, sustainable and ethically implications of such construction.

With the recent reports of development having started on The Line, it is clear that these are not simply renders and blue-sky thinking, but are instead projects that are putting down roots and preparing to change the skyline – and indeed the global hospitality landscape. Having put themselves directly in the design spotlight, what inevitably comes with all the drumrolls and attention is scrutiny. Whether concerning issues of human rights or environmental impact, all eyes will be on these hotel concept as they become reality – no amount of sustainable smoke and deflective mirrors will be able divert industry from seeking the truth.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the recent developments that have emerged in Saudi Arabia. Mention us on social media using the handle @HotelDesigns.

Main image credit: NMDC