Banyan Tree AlUla Resort / AW2 architecture and interiors
Stéphanie Ledoux, Reda Amalou
Architect of Record:
Text description provided by the architects. The resort is 15 km from the Kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra. Guided by the Strategic Master Planning Guidelines for Alula and the Saudi Vision 2030, AW²’s design integrates and responds to Saudi Arabia’s ambitions for the future and the resort’s unique desert environment amidst rock formations and ancient heritage sites. The design prioritizes the preservation of natural beauty and the rich heritage of the site, while supporting the country’s long-term tourist, cultural and economic goals for the region.
Light touch: Sustainable tent-like structures protect the AlUla desert. The resort has 47 new tented suites ranging in size from one to three bedrooms. The public areas include two gourmet restaurants, as well as a luxury spa. The distinctive pool sits in a natural cleft in the rocks, reminiscent of the Wadis that appear at the foot of the cliffs during rainstorms.
AW² has taken an environmentally friendly, light approach to the design which aims to seamlessly blend the resort with the natural scenery of the Ashar Valley. Each suite consists of a simple platform and a solid structure that evokes the neighboring rocks. Various sand colored cloths were used to create natural ventilation between the roof and the tent, as well as to provide sun protection. This three-level design creates soft rooflines that blend the architecture into the existing landscape.
Various sand colored canvas and terracotta renderings were carefully selected to blend with its surroundings, the architecture was designed as a landscape. The spa facades are formed with compacted sand, the variation of horizontal colored sand lines matching the rock formations in the background.
As with all AW² projects, the design team focused on the guest experience. A key factor that had to be addressed was the sheer scale of the site, and the design was carefully considered to ensure that guests did not feel overwhelmed, while still experiencing spectacular views. Privacy and shelter therefore go hand in hand at the resort, creating an intimate environment where the breathtaking views are individually framed.
Bespoke interiors: Nabatean nomadic themes combined with international luxury. The interior design is a modern interpretation of the Bedouin way of life. Throughout the resort, spaces are designed with patterns inspired by Nabatean nomadic Arab tribes and traditional motifs, evoking the rich cultural heritage of Ashar. The colors of the desert are reflected in the color palette used throughout the design.
AW² carried over the approach taken to the architecture into the interior design. Spaces are designed to create an indoor-outdoor feel, helping guests feel connected to nature. Terraces extend from the interior spaces with the tarp covering above.
The custom furniture design expresses a sense of nomadic culture and patterns inspired by the Nabataean and traditional motifs are used throughout, evoking the rich cultural heritage of Ashar. The spaces reflect a modern and elegant style throughout the resort that combines a rich local experience with the highest international luxury standards in hospitality design.
Support nature and minimize the resort’s footprint. To emphasize the light touch approach in the development of the vast site, paths and walkways were designed as paths in the sand. Guests travel through a landscape of sand dunes that allow them to get closer to nature. In this way, the footprint of the resort is kept to a minimum and the site’s natural habitat is preserved. The use of local resources, craftsmanship and minerals further reduces the project’s carbon footprint.
Local plants have been implemented into the landscape of the resort, a sustainable design choice that focuses on endemic species native to the desert climate. The architects used water harvesting techniques to channel the rainwater into micro-catchment gardens to support the plant life on the site. The gardens also provide flood protection during the months of high rainfall when flash floods can occur in the region.