Appointed by the Royal Commission for AlUla in partnership with the French Agency for AlUla Development, AW² has completed the design of Banyan Tree AlUla, a resort in the Ashar Valley, Saudi Arabia. Nestled deep within a vast desert, Alula is known as a cultural oasis and living museum. The 47 tents of Banyan Tree AlUla offer a fresh perspective on this monumental site as well as a sustainable model for the future. The camp is concealed in the landscape, and further echoes ancient nomadic traditions. Choosing a tent structure that remains very low to the ground and a desert-coloured technical canvas that acts like a canopy and shields the built elements from projected sand and strong winds made sense. Nomadic architecture is the most appropriate response in this kind of environment.
Tied to the desert site is an oasis: the Alula valley is a natural collection point for water running from the surrounding hills, which allows agriculture and plantation. AW²’s first task was to understand the scale. The site is so vast that architectural elements needed to fit with the topography and merge with the place. The architects then looked at how architecture and landscapes could dialogue; the dunes’ soft lines inform and dictate the structure of the tents. Alula is not a flat desert; it is formed by wavy dunes and cliffs, which were used like walls or backdrops to the architecture. Some suites have open views onto the desert plain and some face the cliffs, which completely changes the perception, scale and understanding of the site.
AW² created the bioclimatic response by creating a natural ventilation flow between the hard structure and the soft canvas canopy; naturally, the budling’s envelope is cooled down by adjusting the tents’ heights depending on the weather. The footprint of the resort is reduced to a minimum, thus the site’s natural habitat is preserved. Water harvesting techniques were used to guide the rainwater from the surrounding hills towards micro-catchment gardens to support plant life on the site and provide flood protection during the months of high rainfall. AW² thus respect the environment by recreating a connection between the rocks and the water. Local plants were implemented into the landscape, a sustainable design choice focusing on endemic species native to the desert climate.
The design has been carefully considered to ensure guests do not feel overwhelmed, by the large scale of the site, while still experiencing spectacular vistas. Privacy and shelter therefore go hand in hand at the resort, creating an intimate environment where the breath-taking views are individually framed. Terraces extend from the interior spaces with the canvas tent covering above.
The interior design is a modern interpretation of the Bedouin way of life. Throughout the resort, spaces are designed with patterns inspired by Nabataean nomadic Arab tribes and traditional motifs, evoking the rich cultural heritage of Ashar.
The 47 tented suites are placed in relation to the coves created by the rock formations. Each tented suite has been positioned to enjoy extended views over the desertscape whilst providing a maximum degree of privacy for all the guests. The architectural qualities of the project involve harnessing the natural beauty of the landscape with a project that seamlessly integrates into the site, a design that is adapted and adaptable to the cultural, historical, natural, and environmental specificities of Ashar. Away from the tents, there is a spa building and pool. Hiding in a natural cove that sits at the bottom of a rocky cliffs, the site is naturally in the shade. Nearby, the swimming pool, a very important element in the scheme, seamlessly blends in the environment. Far from being square, it mimics the shape of a natural pool at the bottom of the cliffs.
“…AlUla [has] a unique appeal as a cultural, heritage and nature destination [that] fits with Accor’s Banyan Tree brand, which is synonymous with authentically unique experiences. We […] deliver projects that complement our cultural oasis, as well as benefitting our local community”, Amr AlMadani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla.
AW² is an international architecture and interior design agency led by partner architects Reda Amalou and Stéphanie Ledoux. Both partners take active roles in the design process and are personally involved in all the projects that the firm produces.
AW² is based in Paris, with offices in Geneva, Montpellier, and a partner office in Hô-Chi-Minh-City, Vietnam. It is in 2022 that AW² opened an office in the centre of Geneva, an anchor point for its Swiss projects.
With projects in 40 different countries, the studio has an international reputation for quality high-end design. Luxury hotels and high-end interiors are now an important part of its activity. The studio covers all project typologies including residential, hospitality, education, offices and retail...
Our approach to design is more an open working process rather than a strict theoretical or stylistic framework by which we abide. For us, architecture is more ‘how’ than ‘what’.