Qiddiya: The “home of disruptive entertainment experiences”

Qiddiya talks exclusively to CW about building the 366km2 entertainment city, while curbing COVID-19

Qiddiya will be a 366km2 entertainment city - 40km outside of Riyadh
Qiddiya
Qiddiya will be a 366km2 entertainment city - 40km outside of Riyadh

Take a moment to soak this in: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is building a 366km2 entertainment city – its “capital of entertainment, sports, and the arts” – which is more than half the size of the island city-state of Singapore.

The entertainment city gigaproject is being developed by the Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC), which is chaired by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince HRH Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and backed by the kingdom’s sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF).

In conversation with Construction Week, the chief development officer of QIC, Kareem Shamma, says: “Qiddiya’s vision is to create a city, recognised on the world stage as the home of the most innovative and disruptive experiences in entertainment, sports, and the arts, built upon an existing unserved market, and catalysing demand from domestic, regional, and international markets.

“Once complete, we will offer unparalleled entertainment experiences, programmes, and events to all audiences – from families and groups to couples and individuals. We support Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, and will make Qiddiya a central component of the kingdom’s strategy to elevate tourism as a major contributor to economic diversification.”

Located across a 200m-high escarpment, 40km west of Riyadh, Qiddiya will present itself in a number of development nodes across its topography of lower and upper plateaus.

In the lower plateau, Qiddiya’s Resort Core will be home to theme parks and entertainment attractions, including Six Flags Qiddiya, a Speed Park, and a Water Theme Park, all arranged around a central Retail, Dining, and Entertainment spine.

Perched on the edge of the upper plateau and overlooking the theme parks below, the City Centre will be a vibrant mixed-use village that will comprise of major sports stadiums and arts venues, as well as a Creative Village quarter that will be home to companies operating in sports, arts, and other creative realms.

Shamma adds: “The Motion Zone, which is also in the lower plateau, will contain a wide range of adrenaline-fueled, high-speed experiences. It will be the ultimate playground for high-performance motion on both two and four wheels.

“Our private and exclusive Golf Community will include an 18-hole championship golf course offering panoramic vistas, with an array of residential offerings, in addition to a luxurious Golf and Spa Resort, as well as equestrian facilities.

“Additionally, Qiddiya’s Eco Zone will focus on all things outdoor, from luxury tented resorts to extreme sports, animal encounters, nature trails, and rambles.”

Construction during COVID-19

At the outset, construction is progressing on schedule at the entertainment city gigaproject, despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

Qiddiya has implemented a number of precautionary measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and ensure business continuity.

Speaking exclusively to Construction Week, the chief executive officer of QIC, Michael Reininger, says: “Before leaving the offices, we ensured that all staff members were given remote access to our shared folders, and we installed video conferencing applications on everyone’s laptops, so that they could continue to meet with their colleagues. It really has felt like business as normal.

“Work on site has also continued – while adhering to all guidance and restrictions. So, we continue to be a productive team, while progressing on our project.”

Shamma adds: “On site, we were able to continue with our construction progress due to the nature of site work, with people working individually in their machines, all in compliance with the kingdom’s Ministry of Health (MOH) guidelines.

“We are taking a staggered approach to asking our staff to return to the on-site offices and have ensured that our offices have been sanitised, with PPE equipment provided. All safety precautions have been taken.”

In 2020, Qiddiya awarded two key contracts to Saudi companies. The first contract was awarded to Riyadh-based AbdulAli Al Ajmi Company to begin the site preparation and mass grading for the development of two of its anchor development zones: The Resort Core and the City Centre.

“This should take around 12 months and will include the sculpting of 7 million cubic metres of earth to ensure the site preparation of a combined area of more than 4km2,” Shamma explains.

“It will require upwards of 500 pieces of major earthmoving equipment to grade and develop the plots, in addition to 4,000 tons of steel and 30,000 cubic metres of concrete for storm water management to prepare the area for the next stage of development.”

The second contract in 2020 was awarded to Saudi Pan Kingdom (SAPAC) to develop secured access around the entire premises of Qiddiya. As part of the contract, the firm will install 20km of chain link fence, and 23km of low-height tensioned cable barriers.

Looking forward, Shamma adds: “This first step to secure the site will allow the commencement of multiple construction projects, scheduled to begin this year. It will enable developers to bring in heavy construction equipment needed for the next phases of the development.”

“We are aiming to award two major road contracts – one each for our upper and lower plateaus  – to local companies in the next few weeks and months, as well as some major bridge contracts, but our focus at the moment is on completing the mass grading and site preparation.”

Qiddiya has also awarded a roadworks contract to Riyadh-based Shibh Al Jazira Contracting Company, to begin work on the first part of the road network. This will provide easy access to the site and enable future construction work.

In addition, Qiddiya has begun moving overhead powerlines, which includes the relocation of 110km of medium-voltage (MV) and high-voltage (HV) overhead powerlines and 812 towers, to ensure that construction stays on track.

Two Qiddiya site offices have already been built by Dubox, a part of Amana Group on the lower plateau — making them the first ones to be constructed on site. This includes a 21,000m2 complex, which accommodates approximately 150 employees working on Phase 1 of the gigaproject. A second complex is expected to be constructed on the upper plateau.

With regard to its overall timeline, Qiddiya will continue with heavy construction and develop strategic partnerships well into 2022, after which it will move into the testing and commissioning phases, ahead of its grand opening in 2023.

Commenting on challenges faced and overcome in 2020, Reininger says: “I am happy to report that there have been no major problems that we have had to mitigate. I think if this crisis was to have happened a decade ago, we would have been in a very different position because we would have been without the necessary business continuity technology.”

“Busier than ever”

In May 2020, QIC inked a five-year framework agreement with Detecon Al Saudia Co. Ltd. (DETASAD).

The scope of the agreement comprises a fully integrated system delivered by DETASAD, which includes all requirements and operation of the company’s IT infrastructure, managing ICT hardware, as well as providing hybrid cloud, connectivity, and manpower for Qiddiya’s resources.

“Additionally, we toured the site to check on progress in May 2020, and to be frank, we have been busier than ever,” Reininger says.

“Naturally, when it comes to large audience-format events, COVID-19 has caused us to postpone these, but we are exploring the option of creating virtual events.

“We hope to create some rather spectacular ones around Q3 and Q4 2020, and this is also positive because an online audience always gives you wider reach.”

As part of its business continuity plan, Qiddiya has also assembled a COVID-19 Response Team, which is equipped to respond to all eventualities.

“I think Qiddiya has been pro-active, taking every avenue to continue work as usual, and therefore, we feel that our plans are progressing as we had envisaged. Having said this, we have already started preparing “back to office” plans that are currently under review,” Reininger adds.

“Marrying nature with technology”

Qiddiya’s masterplan has been carefully crafted to respect and enhance the site’s natural patterns, allowing the beauty of the landscape to take centre stage.

Shamma says: “In order to create an environment that marries the stunning natural vistas with the latest technological experiences, Qiddiya is built on an open space network that is informed by the natural flow of the water, creating a one-of-a-kind destination.”

From an architectural perspective, all the assets within the gigaproject will be tied together  with a unifying “Qiddiya golden thread”.

“Our branding will be present throughout the site, so that whichever location you visit, you can see that Qiddiya stands out by maintaining international design standards, whilst simultaneously paying homage to Saudi’s rich cultural heritage,” Shamma adds.

“For example, the rides and attractions at Six Flags have been designed exclusively for Qiddiya. Although some will be record breaking, all of them will be steeped in the rich culture and history of the kingdom.”

The Citadel, which is the central hub of the park, will be covered by a billowing canopy form, inspired by traditional Bedouin tents.

In Discovery Springs, Qiddiya’s relationship between the desert and the sea will be showcased in its collection of rides and experiences, which play with elements of earth and water.

“Meanwhile, The City of Thrills will be the embodiment of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030: a forward-looking, boundary-pushing, future city anchored in Arabic design motifs,” he adds.

“The Valley of Fortune will be an exciting land of adventure set amidst the  time-worn architectural ruins of old Arabian masonry, enlivened by the bustling trade of fortune seekers from around the world.”

Elevating key areas of sustainability

The Qiddiya master-developer has also incorporated sustainability into the gigaproject, right from the design and planning stages through to execution.

Shamma explains: “Qiddiya enthusiastically embraces and supports the sustainability goals and objectives outlined in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. This involves curbing all types of pollution, and adopting efficient waste management, including reducing, re-using, and recycling.”

“Saudi’s Vision 2030 calls for fighting desertification, and that’s clearly within our sights.  We’re also protecting and rehabilitating Saudi’s natural reserves.”

In addition to meeting the kingdom’s sustainability goals, Qiddiya has also identified and elevated the importance of four key areas of sustainability.

“We will pay special attention to enhancing biodiversity, microclimate creation, efficient waste management, and conservation of water resources,” Shamma adds.

“We will not only preserve the current level of biodiversity, but also enhance it with native flora and fauna that can flourish, allowing the natural ecosystem to reach its full potential. Biodiversity will ensure natural sustainability for all of the desert’s life forms, and will produce a more vibrant site that will be more attractive and enjoyable for visitors.”

There are certain times of the year when the natural climate at Qiddiya can be severe, but QIC aims to mitigate this by creating microclimates, which ensure that outdoor pedestrian areas will be hospitable and habitable.

“This will encourage more outdoor movement all year around, thus creating a healthier lifestyle for visitors and residents. The creation of microclimates will also reduce dependence on unsustainable methods of providing comfortable environments such as air conditioning.”

Furthermore, given Qiddiya’s sheer size and scale – both during construction and once operations begin – there is the potential to create large volumes of waste and by-products.

Qiddiya plans to efficiently manage waste and byproducts primarily by reducing their volumes, which in turn will also reduce the need to recycle.

“When we recycle, we will do so on site, which then reduces our carbon footprint as a result of less fossil fuel consumed in transportation. We also aim to use biodegradables, waste to energy technologies, and avoid single-use plastics.”

“Most importantly, water is very special to us as it gave birth to the Qiddiya site. We promote the optimal use of water resources by reducing consumption, and utilising treated and renewable water. Water also aids biodiversity, making it doubly important,” Shamma concludes.

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