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A new city centre for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Cube complex Mukaab

Laura Puttkamer




Saudi Arabia keeps announcing new mega-projects. Now comes Mukaab, a cube-shaped building reminiscent of Kaaba, Islam’s holy site. Read all about the cube complex and the new city centre for Riyadh, New Murabba, here.

A gigantic cube in the middle of Riyadh

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has many big plans. In addition to The Line, a 170-kilometre-long ribbon city, there is now to be a cube city in the middle of Riyadh. This skyscraper in the shape of a cube called Mukaab is supposed to open the gateway to a utopian new world. Underwater landscapes, virtual trips to Mars, holiday destinations, flats and office space will be located in the gigantic cube.

For this project, Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia with 7.6 million inhabitants, will be expanded by 19 square kilometres. New Murabba is the name of the new district, which means new place. The project will provide a home for hundreds of thousands of people. The cube is at the centre. The planned dimensions: 400 metres in height, width, and depth. According to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that is enough volume to fit 20 Empire State Buildings.

The shape of the building is striking, as it is strongly reminiscent of the Kaaba in Mecca. This is the most important sanctuary in Islam. There are 800 kilometres between Mukaab and Kaaba as the crow flies. However, the new centrepiece of Riyadh is mainly intended to attract tourists. Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its dependence on oil and improve its image. The mega-building will include, among other things, a technology and design university as well as cultural and entertainment venues.

Cross-section of the Mukaab cube. Image: New Murabba

City within the city

The new city centre will be located at the intersection of King Salman Street and King Khalid Street in northwest Riyadh. It will offer a “living, working and entertainment experience” within a 15-minute walking radius. It is about 20 minutes by car to Riyadh airport. A dedicated transport system around New Murabba and a large green space with walking and cycling paths will improve the quality of life. The rich people who can afford a flat in the cube complex will benefit most from this.

Community and recreational facilities, theatres, museums, office and residential space and up to 9,000 hotel rooms are also planned next to and in the Mukaab cube. As a city centre, New Murabba will cover an area of 19 square kilometres and offer over 25 million square metres of floor space. Hundreds of thousands of residents will be accommodated in the sustainable urban district. Over 330,000 new direct and indirect jobs will be created. Currently, New Murabba is scheduled for completion in 2030.

Together with other utopian buildings, the project is part of Saudi Vision 2030. The cube is scheduled to open in just seven years. According to the crown prince, it will be “the largest modern city centre” in the world. He has founded the New Murabba Development Company to finance and implement the project. This subsidiary of the PIF (Public Investment Fund) belongs to the Crown Prince and is financed from his assets.

Riyadh's skyline will change with the Mukaab cube. Image: Pixabay

2 million square metres of floor space

According to the Crown Prince, the Mukaab building will be equipped with the latest innovative technologies, making it a unique experience. With a footprint of 2 million square metres, the aim is to ensure optimal use of space. This includes, among other things, an immersive experience inside. Apparently, this will consist of digital and virtual technology with the latest holography. Details of this mysterious announcement are still unclear.

At the heart of the cube will be a spiral tower hospitality destination. It will be home to retail, cultural and tourist attractions. Also, residential and hotel units, commercial space and leisure facilities are planned. The exterior of the building will serve as a shell for a dome, which in turn will be a shell for the Helter Skelter Tower. Scenes will be projected onto the walls of the dome to create an experience for visitors inside the cube.

The modern Najdi architectural style is used for the new icon in the heart of Riyadh. This includes yellowish and orange tones, as in the desert, fine geometric motifs, and homages to the rich Islamic history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The aim is to convey the traditional look of Arab residential buildings. Yet the Mukaab Cube is many orders of magnitude larger. There will also be a garden at the top of the cube.

Example of the Najdi architecture style, which is common in Saudi Arabia. Image: Unsplash

15-minute city – for whom?

The press material for New Murabba emphasises the sustainability of Riyadh’s new city centre. This includes green spaces and pedestrian and cycle paths as well as ideas of the 15-minute city. According to this idea, residents should be able to reach all amenities within a 15-minute walking radius.

Exactly how the new city centre will interact with the rest of Riyadh and replace the current city centre is not yet clear. Nor is it clear who will populate New Murabba and what price range to expect for the flats. Similar to The Line, it can be assumed that this project with its high-tech cube is mainly aimed at the wealthy classes and affluent tourists.

Read more: Telosa City in the States is another example of a utopian vision for a city of the future.

Also read more about the popular 15-minute city concept and whether it makes for an ideal post-Covid city.

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