Foster + Partners' hardy luxury villas rise in the Arabian dunes
Following news of its under-construction airport and Coral Bloom hotel, Foster + Partners has created yet another hotel to become part of the massive Red Sea Project desert development in Saudi Arabia. Named Southern Dunes, it will get electricity from the same 1.2-gigawatt battery system that will power Coral Bloom and is designed to withstand the harsh conditions in the Arabian dunes.
Southern Dunes will consist of 40 luxury villas spread across the sand, as well as a restaurant and some central hotel buildings. Further details are still fairly light at this stage, though the renders show the hotel villas topped by large timber roofs, with clusters of mushroom-shaped shading structures sheltering communal spaces. Many of the villas will have their own pools too.
Foster + Partners avoided using construction materials like concrete and stone as it felt lightweight materials like wood are better suited to the searing desert heat in that part of the world – though the firm doesn't specify whether or not the villas are wholly made from timber.
"From our work previously in the desert, one of the most important things is to avoid using what we call high thermal mass materials," says Gerard Evenden, Head of Studio at Foster + Partners. "If you use stone or concrete in the desert, the problem is that over time it heats up and it becomes a thermal mass. They radiate heat and they hold the heat. And because in the desert they are being baked every day, they never get cooled. This means that in order to reduce temperatures you have to pump in systems to lower temperatures internally within these buildings because these buildings are just getting hotter and hotter.
"So the physical makeup of your buildings needs to be lightweight. Lightweight materials. Simple materials that construct together. They can then be transported as finished items. The more transportable finished items we can bring, the better. And that will lead not only to fast reactive buildings but will also lead to incredibly energy efficient construction."
The project represents another step in Saudi Arabia's shift towards tourism. The scale of the work going on really is ambitious and the size of the Red Sea Project alone covers 28,000 sq km (roughly 10,810 sq mi), for example, plus there are other related efforts like BIG's Qiddiya giga-project and the Sharaan by Jean Nouvel.
Southern Dunes is already under construction and the first guests are expected to arrive in 2022.