Léon Krier looks at linear super-city Neom

Leon Krier joins UK Column for the third part of our discussions about architecture and urban planning. In this interview, we look at city development for the future, and we start by focusing on Neom, the mirrored ‘line’ city of the Saudi Arabian desert. 

The Guardian reported in July 2022 that:

The promotional material is striking: two mirror-encased skyscrapers stretching more than 100 miles across a swathe of desert and mountain terrain, providing a future home for 9 million people. Is it the ultimate in high-density living, or a grandiose science fiction fantasy?

In short, economists, architects and analysts are not quite sure. So extravagant is Saudi Arabia’s plan to create an urban utopia that even those working on the project, known as the Line, do not yet know if its scale and scope can ever be realised.

According to the Saudis, artificial intelligence will be central to how people live in the 500-metre-high, 200-metre-wide structure, a car-free, carbon neutral bubble that will boast near total sustainability and a temperate, regulated microclimate. Past environmental pledges by the kingdom, such as a vow to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2060, have prompted scepticism from environmentalists.

For more information, the reader will need to consult the official Neom city website, where the visitor is met with an image-heavy view of the project. 

In this interview, following two short video clips presenting the Neom project, Krier describes the new city as an absurdity which makes promises that do not correspond to reality. He remains unimpressed with the ultra-high technology of The Line and argues that we should still accept low-tech construction, particularly where it is appropriate and effective: for example, using mud construction in hot, arid climes.

He highlights that much of contemporary urban zone development is promoted heavily on the back of growth models which nobody controls. He also describes territorial zoning as ‘planning massification’, which in turn catalyses uniformity in architecture, economic class and community. These are all points which, he reminds us, the then Prince Charles, Krier’s former architectural patron, challenged as a lone voice amongst ‘a band of [architectural and planning] criminals’.

In the latter part of the interview, Krier expresses his concern over Ukraine and President Zelensky’s invitation to BlackRock to plan for the future. He warns that there will be no small-scale development and much will be ‘robotised’: jobs and the human element will be phased out. 

Krier ends by considering what it is that people strive for: to build their own house and be able to grow food for themselves. Our final comment is on Léon Krier’s attractive, low-cost wood construction home in the Seaside community in Florida.