- Published: 03 June 2023
Peter Cook has questioned the buildability of Saudi Arabia’s NEOM ‘smart city’ development The Line - the controversial 170km desert project he is employed to work on
The 86-year-old was talking as part of an event at the NEOM exhibition in Venice on Saturday (20 May) when he described the linear desert city – which is already under construction – as an ‘amazing absurdity’, adding that the scheme’s proposed 500m height was ‘stupid’.
Asked by event moderator Antoni Vives, NEOM's chief urban planning officer, if the project - the flagship scheme within the wider NEOM development - was going to ‘make it or not’, Cook responded: ‘I’m going to give a very English answer, it’s an interesting possibility. You know I think [they'll] get a bit of it done.
‘And then I think – I’m going to speak honestly now, as long as you don’t cut me off – I think higher than 500m [in height] is a bit stupid and unreasonable and all our engineer friends will tell you this’.
Cook continued by saying that, for future sections of The Line, aiming for 200m in height (above sea level) might be ‘getting near the [perfect] spot’, although 150m was ‘quite agreeable, high enough, nice view, easy to get up and down’.
He suggested that, in all likelihood, the structure would ‘eventually reach’ 50m.
He went on: ‘You say “ah that means you don’t believe in [The Line]”. I believe in the something. I believe it’s interesting and it’ll get more interesting as it becomes more incorrect, and you’re left with this paper trail, a concrete trail.’
Cook, who is one of more than a dozen architects – including David Adjaye –involved in the proposed 170km-long city, added that the project was an ‘absurd’ concept.
‘I think there’s an amazing absurdity, and I love absurdities,’ he said. ‘Here we are in probably the most idiosyncratic city in the world [Venice], and it is also absurd.
‘Maybe that’s the future of The Line. It could become a great touristic success. [However] it’s no more absurd than a city like the one we are in, in the middle of a pond with ground that subsides etc.
‘Absurdity is perhaps the positive … Interestingness in architecture is very important.’
Although not an official part of the main Lesley Lokko-curated Venice Biennale, NEOM is holding an exhibition in the city to coincide with the event.
The Zero Gravity Urbanism—Principles for a New Livability show includes models of various sections of The Line drawn up by the different architects, including elements by Cook’s practice Cook Haffner Architecture Platform (CHAP).
The Archigram founder set up the outfit with Norwegian architect Erlend Blakstad Haffner.
Cook told the AJ that his remarks had been ‘taken out of context’, adding: ‘We were sketching possibilities on the height of The Line in Venice. The discussion of ideas was informal, exploring the different height variables of The Line. After the Hidden Marina [which will sit at the base of The Line] is built, I may eat my hat and say 500m is even more fun!’
The contentious scheme has come under fire amid repeated human rights warnings from the United Nations about the ‘imminent execution’ of three men for reportedly opposing eviction to make way for The Line, a project spearheaded by the country's Crown Prince.
Responding to Cook’s comments, a NEOM spokesperson told the AJ: ‘Zero Gravity Urbanism is revolutionary and perhaps unimaginable, particularly when seen through the lens of the past and in light of existing failed urban models.
‘With the current environmental crisis and the shortcomings of our cities to deliver on human needs, a solution this innovative becomes a necessity deserving to be delivered with unwavering commitment.
‘Construction on The Line began in mid-2021 and the first district, the Hidden Marina, is due to welcome its first residents and visitors by 2030.’
Autor(en)/Author(s): Gino Spocchia
Quelle/Source: Architects Journal, 25.05.2023