Good company: Desert Rock by Oppenheim Architecture combines luxury and sustainability

If you drive into the desert outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, one thing will stand out unlike the others: the new Desert Rock resort, which is slated to open in 2023. Built as a magical oasis in the middle of the desert, this regenerative hill station in the western desert of Saudi Arabia aims to merge sustainable travel without sacrificing luxury.

“We wanted to create a destination that allows guests to experience the untouched beauty of Saudi Arabia, and Desert Rock will provide guests with spectacular, uninterrupted views while preserving the natural landscape for future generations to enjoy,” said John Pagano, CEO of Red Sea Development. Company developing the project.

“We took inspiration from the surrounding environment, while providing unparalleled luxury, allowing guests to connect with nature and create memorable experiences,” he says.


It will be the first luxury resort in the Saudi desert plugged into a rock. Right now it is under construction and is on track to welcome the first guests in early 2023 (they started in July). “We decided we wanted to put it on this massive, incredible rock,” said lead architect Chad Oppenheim. “It all started with the developer driving us around for days asking ‘where do you think a hotel would be good?’ and we said, ‘Right there.’

The 60-key complex comprises 48 villas and 12 hotel rooms, along the views, from the ground floor to the middle of the mountain. Many suites are dug directly into the rock mass. With state-of-the-art facilities including a world-class spa and fitness center, there are private dining rooms and a lagoon oasis. All suites will offer unobstructed views of the desert, impeccable to watch at sunset.


Courtesy of Oppenheim Architecture

“There are of course the best beds and linens, but the rawness and the absence of artificial elements, the luxury of the natural environment within the architecture create the ultimate luxury,” says Oppenheim. “Anyone can create a white box on land, but how do you create this unique way of coexisting with this powerful natural environment? »

On-site activities for guests include hiking, desert buggy driving, and star gazing at night. Guests can learn about the ancient history of the site, as members of the local community will lead educational tours about the local history of the area.

Interior design is by Toronto-based Studio Paolo Ferrari, with whom Oppenheim has worked closely. “We wanted to let the natural features be the star of the architecture,” he says.


There are hotel suites on the ground floor, as well as “crevasse suites” which are halfway up the mountain, which are carved directly into the rock mass. Suite prices are yet to be confirmed or announced.


Oppenheim says this station is revolutionary simply because it will bring tourism to an often overlooked area. “Beyond religious tourism, tourism has not been widespread here,” he says.

The Red Sea Development Company plans to transform the entire region into a luxury travel destination by 2030. This includes the Red Sea International Airport, designed by Foster and Partners and due for completion next year. It is a short drive from the resort, which is convenient for visitors to Desert Rock.

“What is so amazing is the diversity of oases, desert and sea here,” he says. “It’s so spectacular because it hasn’t been taken over by overtourism. It has this majestic and spectacular beauty.

“For us, we have this rock, we want it to look like it is right now, and inhabit it, without spoiling anything,” Oppenheim says. “Desert Rock is one of the most spectacular desert landscapes in the world; we wanted to use architecture as a way to honor and respect it.




Desert Rock’s construction team includes complex teams of engineers, geological engineers, drilling experts, and tunnel builders. They all worked with the granite rock to intervene as little as possible on the ground, while protecting the species of the region. “It was a great company,” says Oppenheim. “There’s a lot of engineering behind the scenes that makes it safe and durable.”

Even though the construction drills into the rock, they aim to minimize noise and light pollution, to give the impression of having an unobstructed view of the magnificent desert landscape.

The Oppenheim Architecture team uses local materials with minimal imports. Stone from the site will be recycled for the interior and exterior walls and floors of the complex. The architects use crushed stone and sand for a mixture of concrete aggregate, which is used as the main construction material for the structure of the station.

“We wanted to create something that wasn’t built on the ground, but with the ground part,” says Oppenheim. “It was about creating this visceral connection. Materials and resources and water and reclamation of native habitats, it’s all about levity.

Desert Rock is designed to achieve the highest level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and will help reduce energy consumption. Water retention systems will be used throughout the complex, with harvested rainwater being used to introduce sustainability to the area.

The inspiration comes from ancient times, the Nabataeans, who were a nomadic tribe of Bedouins who roamed the Arabian desert. “We are inspired by the Nabataeans, who once lived in this desert between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who built in the rocks, like Petra,” he says. “We like to explore the old to find the future.”

“We’re trying to make this project a celebration of the unique nature and incredible spirit of this place,” says Oppenheim. “It’s much more than green tourism, it’s not like going to a hotel on a beach, you become one with a place.”

For Oppenheim, this is the future of tourism. “It’s not about ticking the boxes of sustainability, it’s about merging and connecting in this very powerful way,” he says. “Disconnect from your home life and enter a place that will immerse you in the magic of the desert.”

Silhouette of the main rock



In addition to the new airport, the destination will have 50 resorts comprising 8,000 hotel rooms and 1,000 residential properties spread across 22 islands and six inland locations on the region’s west coast, including golf courses, marinas luxury and excursions to ancient heritage sites including mountain canyons. and dormant volcanoes.

The aim is to put Saudi Arabia on the travellers’ map, while preserving the region, using renewable energy and conserving water reuse. The development company is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the country’s wealth fund, which is worth more than $550 billion. The 14,000 workers building this ambitious tourist site currently live in a newly built coastal village.

What’s a game-changer about this resort is how integrated it is with nature. “For the past thousand years, it has been a mission to bring nature into our will,” says Oppenheim.

“In this case, we flip that equation around and say, how can we be more respectful and in awe of what’s here? It’s about letting the architecture retreat into the background of this environment and making it as delicate and good for the planet as possible.

This change in mentality is not easy, he notes. “Revering this equation will be more about where and how we can fit in in the most discreet and delicate way possible,” says Oppenheim. “I think it’s a very big change.”

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