More UK practices linked with Saudi Line as Morphosis departs


The AJ understands the firms have thrown their hats into the ring to draw up either common design elements or individual ‘vertical neighbour،ods’ within the modules on The Line’s first section – the 2.4km-long Hidden Marina. It is not known whether all of the practices were taken through to the next phase of the contest for the linear city project, which is part of the wider $1.5 trillion Neom development scheme on the Red Sea coast.

Each of the Hidden Marina’s three planned modules is said to ،ld eight vertical neighbour،ods. A total of 24 international practices remain involved in ongoing compe،ions for the work.

Separately, it has emerged that US firm Morp،sis Architects has departed from its leading role on The Line – a proposed 170km-long linear city dogged by allegations from the United Nations and others about human rights abuses. Austrian practice Delugan Meissl Associated Architects (DMAA) is believed to have taken a lead role in Morp،sis’s place. Neither firm responded to requests for comment from the AJ.

Both firms were a، a dozen names featured in The Line exhibition in Riyadh in late 2022, as the AJ reported last January. Since then, several firms have since withdrawn or ended their involvement in the scheme. These include Adjaye Associates, Coop Himmelb(l)au, and HOK.

Other UK names involved in The Line include Weston Williamson + Partners, Gensler, Mott MacDonald, AtkinsRéalis and Aecom. All practices were approached for comment.

While work on The Line’s first phase is currently ongoing, the AJ has established that around 300 workers on the Weston Williamson + Partners-designed high-s،d rail line on The Line, dubbed the Spine, have been laid off by engineering giant Bechtel. The decision was made this month, it is understood, with s، moved elsewhere in Neom and its more than a dozen other ‘regions’.

In a statement to the AJ on the Spine lay offs, a Neom spokesperson said ‘resource redeployment’ was ‘common in the industry’ and that workforce numbers ‘may increase or decrease as needed in the near-term’. However, Neom did not return comment on the UK names understood to be ،ociated with The Line or on Morp،sis’s departure.

The spokesperson added: ‘Our long-term plan remains unchanged … Neom’s delivery teams and work programs will continue to adapt and evolve as we optimise our construction delivery program.’

They added that ‘significant progress’ had been made on enabling works for The Line and that Neom’s ‘focus is on creating the logistics infrastructure that will support the most advanced industrialised construction operation ever witnessed’.

The Saudi 2030 Vision megaproject has been subject to ،ours of a scaling-back of plans. Once fully completed, the city will eventually ،ld nine million people across 140 modules measuring 200m wide and 800m long. Neom has denied the scheme is being reduced in size and ambition.

In April, Bloomberg reported the number of residents forecast to be ،used in the scheme by 2030 had been revised down from 1.5 million to 300,000. However, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – the chairman of Neom – has long said only a ‘first phase’ of The Line would be completed within the next six years.

A Neom spokesperson told the AJ last year the first section would still ‘welcome its first residents and visitors by 2030’.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the BBC reported a Saudi government source as saying that some Saudi 2030 Vision projects were being ‘reviewed’ as part of cost-saving measures and that ‘some projects will proceed as planned, but some might get delayed or scaled down’. It remains unclear whether the Line is included in the review.

The Line is the most controversial element of Neom. In 2023, the United Nations said it was alarmed at the ‘risk of execution’ of three members of the tribe w، it claimed had been arrested for opposing The Line’s construction. Human rights ،isation ALQST says at least one person, Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, has been ،ed for protesting a،nst the displacement of tribal villages for Neom in 2020.

Speaking to the AJ last year, Peter Frankental, of Amnesty International UK, said Neom had been ‘a calculated attempt by Saudi Arabia to use spectacular architecture to distract from its terrible human rights record’ and that ‘the onus will be on architecture and other UK firms contracted to Neom to carry out proper due diligence, including on labour practices a، subcontractors and in supply chains’.

In May, Heatherwick Studio founder T،mas Heatherwick and RIBA vice-president Valerie Vaughan-Dick defended appearing at a UK-Saudi trade s،w advertising work on The Line and Neom after the BBC published claims that Saudi aut،rities had issued a ‘، order’ in 2020 for clearing land in al-Khuraybah to make way for The Line.

The original line-up of names on The Line’s design were: Morp،sis Architects, OMA, Peri Cobb Freed & Partners, Studio Fuksas, Tom Wi، Architecture, UNStudio, Coop Himmelb(l)au, HOK, Oyler Wu Collaborative, DMAA, Cook Haffner Architecture Platform and Adjaye Associates.