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‘New Kaaba’: Saudi Arabia plans to build giant cube building in Riyadh

Riyadh launches 'The Mukaab', which has been likened to Star Trek and mocked for similarity to Mecca focal point
‘The Mukaab’, which translates to cube, a mammoth 400 metre long, wide and deep structure in the Saudi capital Riyadh (New Murabba Development Company)
‘The Mukaab’, which translates to cube, a mammoth 400 metre long, wide and deep structure in the Saudi capital Riyadh (New Murabba Development Company)

Saudi Arabia is building a gigantic cube in the middle of a new city centre in the capital Riyadh, the latest in a long line of curiously-shaped structures and cities planned by the kingdom. 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the project on Thursday, announcing that he will chair the New Murabba Development Company, which aims to develop “the world’s largest modern downtown in Riyadh”. 

The project will feature a museum, a tech and design university, an immersive theatre and more than 80 entertainment venues, Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund said in a statement.

At its centre will be "The Mukaab", which translates to cube, a mammoth 400-metre-long, wide and deep structure made up of overlapping triangular forms, in an architectural style inspired by the Najd region of Saudi Arabia. 

The Mukaab will be “the world’s first immersive, experiential destination,” complete with “digital and virtual technology with the latest holographics”.

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At one point in its promotional video, CGI dragons are seen flying around the structure and floating rocks hover in the atmosphere, perhaps a hint to the kind of “holographics” visitors can expect. 

“Dine with gentle giants. Explore a world of magic, or live on Mars,” the video says vaguely, mixing reality with fantasy, cutting from a computer-generated restaurant surrounded by ocean water to flying otherworldly vehicles not out of place in a sci-fi movie. 

The project will be located northwest of Riyadh in a 19-square-kilometre area at the intersection of King Salman and King Khalid roads. 

It will include 104,000 residential units, 9,000 hotel rooms, over 980,000 square metre of retail space and 1.4m square metre of office space, according to the press release. 

The Mukaab central structure will “be big enough to hold 20 Empire State buildings”.

'New Kaaba'

The project will add 180 billion riyals ($48bn) to the Saudi economy and “create 334,000 direct and indirect jobs,” the press release claims. The cost of the gargantuan project was not mentioned. 

New Murabba was widely ridiculed by social media users.

“Congratulations to whichever unscrupulous consulting firm will rake in beaucoup bucks next year for pitching the Saudis on The Tesseract,” tweeted journalist Gregg Carlstrom, referring to a cube structure which appears in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Several users likened the Mukaab to Borg Cube, a type of spacecraft from the Star Trek franchise. 

The Mukaab was also pilloried for its likeness to the most important cube-like structure in Saudi Arabia: the Kaaba. Muslims around the world pray towards the building in the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and circumambulate it during Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

“Building a new Kaaba exclusively devoted to capitalism is a little too on the nose,” said Intercept reporter Murtaza Hussain. 

“It appears [the crown prince] is building his Kaaba. Will he enforce it as the new qibla for worshippers?” tweeted academic Asad Abu Khalil. 

It’s not the first geometrically challenging grandiose project Saudi Arabia has announced in recent years. 

The kingdom has also announced a ski resort with a folded vertical village, a 170km straight-line city, and an eight-sided city that floats on water. It was only a matter of time until they added a giant cube to the mix too.

Those projects will all be situated in Neom, a $600bn megacity touted by organisers to be 33 times the size of New York City. 

On Thursday, a new report revealed that at least 47 members of the Howeitat tribe in Saudi Arabia had been either arrested or detained for resisting eviction to make way for the megacity. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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