RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is building its own version of France’s world-famous Champs-Elysees in historic Diriyah.
Diriyah Gate Development Authority Chief Executive Officer Jerry Inzerillo announced plans for the ambitious project during the Saudi-French Strategic Partnership for Designing Sustainable Cities for Tomorrow Tour in Riyadh.
He said: “The Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) wanted to combine the cultural identity and heritage of Diriyah Gate 1 with the university (King Saud University) at Diriyah Gate 2, thereby connecting the Kingdom’s past and present with its future.
“This connection point allows us to build a new boulevard and the crown prince is someone who loves France.
“Who doesn’t love the Champs-Elysees? That gave him a lot of motivation and he said he’d like our own Diriyah version of the Champs-Elysees, which honors the French but doesn’t copy it. We have our own culture, we have our own heritage and we have our own history,” Inzerillo added.
It is envisaged that the avenue will include a contemporary art museum, convention centre, opera house and mosques along its route.
The new project was discussed during the second edition of the Saudi-French Architectural Tour, which aims to strengthen collaboration between French architects and some of the most important projects in the Kingdom, including the DGDA programme. The tour connects French architects directly with leaders of major projects like Inzerillo.
Diriyah’s own Champs-Elysees Boulevard will come under the Diriyah Gate 2 project, but full details on the scope of the project have yet to be released. According to the agency, the project is still in its early stages and has yet to be given an official name.
Inzerillo said: “Diriyah is very special, soon the silhouettes of the Al-Saud Palace, which was the image of the G20, will be known around the world, like people take a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
“I assure you that in a few years nobody will come to the kingdom and nobody will come to Riyadh without taking a picture in front of the palaces of At-Turaif and Diriyah.
“Diriyah’s very own Champs-Elysees Boulevard is a future project that draws structural inspiration from France while paying tribute to the Kingdom’s heritage.
“The height and width will be similar to the Champs-Elysees in Paris, which I think is 1.9 kilometers.”
Inzerillo highlighted some of the different features that will be part of the new boulevard.
“The Saudi Museum of Contemporary Art will be on this boulevard. This will be our homage to the Louvre (museum in Paris).
“Also on this boulevard will be the Convention Center of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Opera House, the Grand Mosque and the King Salman Mosque.
“We are now 97 percent complete with the design of what we call Diriyah Gate 1 and we are very advanced with Diriyah Gate 2 and will soon begin design of Diriyah Gate 3 alongside the 60-kilometer Wadi Safar development .
“We are working on over two dozen contracts in the cultural and heritage site, including archeology. So there is a very strong relationship between the Kingdom and France that has continued to develop, especially in the four years that I have been CEO,” he added.
During the tour, Inzerillo highlighted the DGDA’s ambitions and possibilities for French collaboration.
“The very strong relationship between Saudi and France since the Giga projects has only grown stronger.”
He noted that agreements worth nearly $1 billion had been signed between the agency and French companies.
Speaking to the French architecture delegation, he said: “When the Crown Prince and I sat down to discuss the Diriyah Gate, the master plan was ambitious at 1.5 million square meters of construction.
“But the Crown Prince, if you give him drawings and show him the master plan, not only will he agree, he will study it, he will tweak it, he will change it. The original 1.5 million have become 14 million square meters of building space.
“These bold giga projects are no longer inspirational, they are bearing fruit,” he added.
The tour was coordinated by Business France, an agency of the French Embassy that oversees the globalization of France’s economy, to raise awareness of the Kingdom’s ambitions in environmental sustainability, innovative technology and cultural and historical preservation.
Inzerillo said: “Diriyah is the birthplace of the Arabian Peninsula, Diriyah is the birthplace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Diriyah is the ancestral seat of the House of Al-Saud.
“We want to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s unique identity by acknowledging its past but doing so in an authentic way.
“If you look at French architecture, French design and France as one of the largest heritage tourism countries in the world, you are indeed an inspiration to us.
“We are going through another very large expansion of architecture and design competitions over the next 12 months.
“We will build 20,000 residents, which we will start with in the first quarter of 2023,” he added.
Focusing on culture and heritage, Diriyah Gate 1 will use traditional adobe in its construction.
“We are currently producing 180 million clay bricks. We symbolically completed the adobe bricks for the first 1 million that we completed just last week. We still have to earn 179 million,” he said.
Riyadh is expected to host the 22nd World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh from November 29 to December 2, where the agency will make various announcements related to its projects.
“During this time, we will not only announce all new assets for 2023, but also show the completion of important aspects of Vision 2030 in 2022,” added Inzerillo.