Why ‘the Line’ in Saudi Arabia Is So Fraught

It may not feel like it, but we’re likely experiencing the largest construction booms in history. According to one estimate, the world will build the equivalent of a New York City every month from 2020 to 2060.

Even this may not be enough to meet the growing demand for housing. The United Nations estimates 96,000 affordable units should be built a day to house the three billion people who will need them by 2030.

Many countries facing explosive population growth are creating entirely new cities that combine environmental ambition with striking architecture. Egypt is constructing a capital east of Cairo for 6.5 million residents featuring Africa’s tallest skyscraper. To take the pressure off Greater Jakarta’s 30 million residents squeezed by rising seas, Indonesia is building a new capital on the island of Borneo.

Perhaps most famous of all is Saudi Arabia’s NEOM, which includes a mountain ski resort, a floating logistics hub and a city known as “the Line” with two parallel skyscrapers connected by walkways that will stretch across a desert and mountains. Though the government recently scaled back the first phase of construction, it has allocated billions of dollars for the project, which could one day house some nine million people. The ultimate statement of ambition, wealth and technological advancement, the city is planned to be about 655 feet wide, 1,640 feet high and some 106 miles long — a distance about eight times the length of Manhattan Island.

The Line offers a hedonistic vision of city living. In renderings, families picnic on sky bridges above canyon-esque atria. Lush greenery cascades from skyscrapers stretching out to the horizon as far as the eye can see. And the project promises a version of urban sustainability most cities can only dream of: no roads, cars or greenhouse gas emissions from transport or electricity.

But the Line, for all its chutzpah, should not be our model for sustainable city living. There are far better ways to build, informed by everything we already know about materials and design. The cities of the future should experiment with architecture, but in service of making spaces more livable and sustainable, not simply iconic.

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Updated: Juni 11, 2024 — 12:35 pm

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