Walk the line

Published September 26, 2022

A pile of architectural blueprints, with one paper rolled up in the centre of the picture

I totally missed this when it was announced a couple of months ago, but the new huge building called The Line that was revealed as an innovative concept design is really bizarre and interesting. It’s based in Saudi Arabia and it’s not without it’s problems, but I do love it when people start thinking outside the box for architecture and living conditions. Or in this case, it’s more like inside the box.

The first key point of this building is that it’s huge, huge, huge but has a relatively small footprint. We’re really leaning in to building up rather than across as a society, but this is no ordinary skyscraper. The building is designed to stretch 170 kilometres in a straight line that is only 200 metres wide. The straight line nature of the building means transport can be super easy and simple, and the infrastructure is more efficient. 170km! For UK people, that’s basically London to Birmingham - one uninterrupted building reaching out all that way.

The design claims all the good ecological things that you’d expect from a futuristic building like this, but I’m intrigued by the idea of everything being within a five-minute walk, or you can jump on a high speed rail that will cover the full length of the line in 20 minutes. The idea is that you wouldn’t need to leave the building, with clean air and garden areas inside, plus all the societal living, health, education and leisure needs taken care of. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of everything being within easy reach for a long time now and this is next level.

Of course it all sounds too good to be true and you have to look at these press releases and artist images with a healthy level of skepticism. There’s a significant problem here first with the human rights issues Saudi Arabia already has, but also there’s talk of it becoming a surveillance city. With a captured audience full of data and even the idea of paying citizens for their data use, there’s a lot of information that could be mined. That’s nothing new, and it’s usually a matter of personal choice how much privacy a person is willing to give up for the ease and convenience of modern living. The question is whether that choice is actually given for potential occupants of this building.

What’s good about this project is the creativity that’s been applied, and the concept of building and trialling something like this where there is plenty of space to do so. I feel like you’re unlikely to get 9 million people volunteering to move to Saudi Arabia just to live in a normal suburb, but something like this is going to make people take a second look. There’s not a lot of talk about if and when the concepts might turn into something more tangible, but it’s made me think about paying closer attention to the future of building designs going forward.

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