Working with TR Hamzah & Yeang Architects, we developed an ecological strategy for the master plan of Saudi Arabia’s newest planned city – NEOM City. The planned city sits in an ecologically important coast that is rich with complex coral reefs, seagrasses, and high marine diversity. It also has sites with important historic and cultural values.
The design proposes a “City in the Sky” concept which retains the rich ecology and much of the original vegetation of the ground plane. Water bodies with naturalized banks (wadis) were added to create a biodiverse habitat. Elevated golf courses and boardwalks were proposed to retain ecological connectivity between the coastal, seagrass and coral reef habitats. All this while creating a high-tech, liveable, culturally sensitive, and environmentally sustainable precinct.
Following the assessment of the ecological context, four main habitat types (coastal, desert/scrub, wadis, landscaped vegetation) and a few sub-habitat types (e.g.., the intertidal area within the coastal habitat) were identified.
We recognized the long coastline of the site as an important habitat for globally threatened nesting sea turtles that became our key faunal targets. That became a key driver to push the development away from the coast and elevate it towards the sky. The elevated boardwalk hugged in and around the wadis which gave the users uninterrupted access to water while not disturbing the ground flora and fauna. The coastal and intertidal zone were enhanced to attract a number of globally significant migratory coastal and water birds.
A biodiversity matrix was constructed to correlate key faunal species that we predicted to use the site with the various landscape types. We deployed a functional approach to determine which faunal species to retain or attract at the site. Criteria used include ecological importance, conservation priority, flagship status and/or umbrella role and innate appeal. Plant species were carefully selected and suggested to the Landscape Architect to maximize the chance of retaining existing faunal species and attracting new ones.