Turning dreams into reality: Navigating giga projects in Saudi Arabia and wider MENA region

What are the realities of working on giga projects and how can AV professionals deliver working, practical solutions for developments that are deliberately audacious?

Mega projects are old news. The scale and pace of development in some MENA countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, demands new terminology. Welcome to the home of the giga project.

Fuelled by its wildly ambitious Vision 2030 framework, Saudi Arabia has been hitting the headlines for projects that are unmatched in scale, frequency and aspiration. But if you look around at the kingdom’s neighbours, there is no shortage of large-scale building projects in the works across the entire MENA region.

But its Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) that are masters in selling dreams. Details so far shared about Neom, a planned smart city in Tabuk Province in north-western Saudi Arabia, include Sindalah, a luxury resort; Trojena, a ski resort; and an airport. There’s plenty of information if you look for it on how the region will attract international businesses, the realities of investing or starting a company in the smart city. But mention Neom and most people will immediately think of the planned linear city The Line. That’s because the PIF has launched a hugely successful publicity drive propelling the audacious 170km linear city into the world’s imaginations with campaigns that show a futuristic looking structure shooting out across the desert.

Then there’s Mukaab, the 400-metre-tall cube-shaped skyscraper planned for Riyadh that will be packed with entertainment, dining and retail outlets. Less attention-grabbing but arguably offering more tangible opportunities are the developments at World Heritage site Diriyah, entertainment mega project Qiddiya, many lifestyle projects such as King Salman Park and The Avenue.

Some of these projects have already brought opportunities for AV firms. Ahmed Naseef, business development director (GCC) for Holovis, says the company is already working closely with Neom, Trojena and other giga projects. Both AVI-SPL and Kraftwerk Living Technologies (LT) have worked on visitor centres to publicise these projects to investors and interested parties.

But, says Gavin Olivier, business development MEA at Kraftwerk LT, it’s clear there’s much more to come. “Whilst everyone can see these mega projects, it’s early days on most and there’s not yet that many that are floating AV packages,” he says. “It’s starting to pick up pace. If you follow the media, there are more than 40 museums in planning in Saudi Arabia but right now there’s not one you can actually bid on. There’s this golden carrot dangling there, and a lot of people positioning themselves to be ready when the real work begins.”

However you look at it, Saudi Arabia has shown a remarkable talent at selling visions in the media. Some of the reporting on these projects has shown varying degrees of scepticism about the viability of projects such as The Line as it’s being currently shown, and there are rumblings that Mukaab is unrealistic.

But, as Olivier notes: “Whatever happens, even if you scale some of these projects back, or take a few away; there’s still a vast amount going on. Just drive around the greater Riyadh area for a day and it quickly hits home just how much work is actually underway.”

To sell that vision so effectively, Saudi Arabia isn’t just talking to engineers and architects. According to Bloomberg many of the visuals to show the Line came from Hollywood set designers, not from the drafting tables of architects.

It begs the question: when AV companies are asked to bid on these projects, will they be pushed to deliver concepts that were never rooted in a technical reality? And, if so, will that be a curse as they struggle to meet unrealistic demands, or an opportunity (backed by big budgets) to push the envelope of what’s currently possible?

It’s a common challenge facing AV technical professionals who are often tasked with delivering the seemingly impossible. AV pros have shown themselves adept at becoming masters of illusion and over the years have brought back deceased rappers from the grave, and made graphics jump out of flat LED walls. 

“We help customers envision what’s possible,” says Marlowe. “Although some ideas may seem far-fetched, our team is determined to create solutions that meet each customer's unique needs.

Marlowe emphasises the critical role played by AVI-SPL's Experience Technology Group (XTG), which he says “fuses technology with space and content to push the boundaries of human imagination and stir wonder and amazement.

"XTG engages with customers early on, shaping and delivering their vision with technical possibilities and realities," he adds.

Marlowe's team uses the company's Dubai experience centre to host working sessions with clients and prospects. The centre provides a platform for demonstrating equipment and discussing and refining concepts and ideas.

“Our technology discussions are agnostic,” says Marlowe. “We don't pitch specific products. Instead, we encourage clients to freely express their objectives, and then we work out the engineering to make their goals a reality.”

Olivier fully expects the demands on AV to be stretched in line with the scale of the projects. “Whether that’s just sheer scale, timelines or the innovation required to create the things that get asked for is yet to be seen,” he says. “This far it all looks manageable, but we know that the impossible requests will come. We’re looking forward to that, it’s what gets us out of bed in the morning.”


Most Viewed