Architects Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan appointed for two major museums in AlUla, Saudi Arabia

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) announces Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan as architects for two upcoming museums in its constellation of cultural assets. Ghotmeh will design the contemporary art museum and Khan will design the museum of the Incense Road. Both museums are situated in AlUla, a destination in northwest Arabia with 7,000 years of continuous human history.

Khan, who was awarded a MBE for his services to architecture and is currently working on the renewal of the Barbican Centre and the new London Museum, is known for his radical approach to architecture, which merges history with the future, grounding projects in material experimentation and social context.

Award winning Ghotmeh, who is designing the 2023 Serpentine Pavilion, creates work that sits at the intersection of art, architecture and design. Her practice is developed through a process of thorough historical research, emerging in complete symbiosis with nature as exquisite interventions that enliven memories and the senses.

The architects were chosen through an international competition. The jury comprised of key stakeholders and specialists in architecture, landscape and museology, supported by a technical panel, and was chaired by Dr Khaled Azzam, the architect of AlUla’s Journey Through Time Masterplan.

Architects Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan

We are excited to announce the appointed architects to these two significant museums – the first of 15 cultural assets being developed as part of AlUla’s Journey Through Time Masterplan. AlUla is a spectacular landscape of discovery, where heritage, works of nature and humankind combine to reveal a long and intimate relationship between people and their environment. This Masterplan will guide the reinvigoration of AlUla establishing a new cultural legacy including the implementation of a circular economy expected to create 38,000 new jobs.

Dr Khaled Azzam – Architect, Journey Through Time Masterplan, Royal Commission for AlUla

The architecture of the contemporary art museum in AlUla immerses visitors in a creative journey from the desert expanse to the lush cultural oasis of AlUla, interweaving the natural environment, agriculture and art to reveal the heart of contemporary culture. Through a series of garden pavilions, the museum presents a constant interplay between art and nature, capturing the essence of this unique place. The galleries offer surprising and anchored perspectives on the many facets of AlUla, from the microclimates of the oasis to the expanse of the desert, evoking a deep sense of attachment to the land and its heritage.

Lina Ghotmeh, architect, contemporary art museum in AlUla

AlUla resonated with me deeply as did the local community members I met. The design takes the form of a public space, not a museum within walls, situated in AlJadidah village with galleries and spaces for sensory experiences and learning. The mountains are a constant background, whose sand dunes reach down to greet the edges of the museum, while stepped terraces of gardens act as a new interface between the village and the oasis.

I am excited about how the museum of the Incense Road can be brought into the collective memory of the world, and become a transformative asset for the local community.

Asif Khan, architect, museum of the Incense Road

The contemporary art museum in AlUla is a museum of regional and global contemporary art with Arabia at its heart. Offering a core collection of works by artists from regions adjoining the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean in dialogue with their contemporaries from across the world, the collection aims to evolve in partnership with these artists, including a robust programme of commissioned works. As the primary art museum in AlUla, it contributes to the region’s legacy as a cultural beacon, generating opportunities for artists, designers, creatives and curators.

An adjoining series of artist-designed gardens will ensure the experience is connected to the landscape in which it sits. Integrated into the distinctive AlUla oasis, set amongst vegetable gardens, palm groves, mountain ranges and an ancient settlement, the museum will explore sensitive environmental design and function as a catalyst for environmental renewal and regeneration of the oasis. It will be structured as an archipelago of pavilion galleries interspersed with a mosaic of artist gardens. Its balance of interior and exterior galleries and gardens will allow visitors to define their own encounters both with art and the natural landscape.

The museum of the Incense Road will be the world’s first museum dedicated to this epic and millennia-old network of major land and sea trading routes, celebrating AlUla’s cultural legacy as a place of exchange at the confluence of civilisations. Bringing to life global histories, through which ideas, goods and culture were exchanged, it shines a light on north-west Arabia as a cultural epicentre. Living and dynamic narratives will include spotlighting the discoveries of ongoing excavations, highlighting the active nature of AlUla’s archaeological sites and the cultural importance of the Incense Road. At the forefront of innovative museum practice, it will enable visitors to engage through layered, multidisciplinary interpretation anchored by carefully curated collections.

The museum of the Incense Road is being developed in dialogue with AlUla’s ancient heritage – including Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site – and its host village, AlJadidah. It will be an extension of the urban fabric that sits towards the oasis edge, looking out on a vista where Dadan and Hegra – once vibrant cities that thrived as a result of the Incense Road – are located. Guided by subject experts and the local community, the museum of the Incense Road will continue to be developed through extensive local and international collaboration with specialists across fields including academia and museology.

Both museums offer a unique entry point into AlUla’s rich and extensive cultural offering and will be developed with a socially responsible approach to the preservation, interpretation, meaningful community engagement and presentation of AlUla’s cultural inheritance. They will consider how to reduce environmental impact while building meaningful spaces, particularly regarding conservation, controlled temperature, humidity and lighting, and will work with a network of cultural leaders at an institutional, thematic and discipline level in the spirit of reciprocal exchange.

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