Building New Cities in the Desert

Today the New York Times featured a fascinating article, photo sideshow, graphics and interviews with architects on new cities being built in Saudi Arabia, titled: Laying Out Cities, Saudis see Window to Modernity.

The article discusses not only the architecture and urban planning challenges of constructing such cities in the deserts, but also the religious and political implications of constructing cities have the potential to allow women to more freely mingle with men and foster other “liberal” activities.  Also as a billions of dollars are being spent on these cities many people, Saudi citizens and international observes alike, are upset that other areas of Saudi cities have deteriorated into slums.

Enjoy a few photos and quotes below and read the whole piece from the New York Times.

King Abdullah Economic City, [is] a 65-square-mile development at the edge of the Red Sea. With a projected population of two million, the city is a Middle Eastern version of the “special economic zones” that have flourished in places like China.

Architecturally they couldn’t be more dreary and conventional — bloated glass towers encircled by quaint town houses and suburban villas decorated in ersatz historical styles. Their gargantuan scale and tabula rasa approach conjure old-style Modernist planning efforts like the creation of Brasília in the 1950s or the colossal Soviet urban experiments of the 1930s, but these are driven by anxiety over the future, not utopian idealism.

With more than 13 million Saudis — half the population — under 20, the 86-year-old Saudi ruler, King Abdullah, is trying to create more than a million new jobs and 4 million homes within 10 to 15 years.

“Here you have a long historical pattern of settlement,” said a local architect, Tariq Alireza, expressing a frustration I encountered again and again here. “There is an inordinate amount of vacant land. Why not solve our problems? Why not fix the port in Jidda?”

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