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Construction Boom Ahead of Riyadh Expo 2030

2 February, 2024
By Waddah Taweel
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Construction Boom Ahead of Riyadh Expo 2030

As Saudi Arabia prepares for the Riyadh Expo 2030, the kingdom is actively progressing its Vision 2030 goals, with a significant focus on its Giga Project Program. This program encompasses a series of major developments in tourism, residential, commercial, retail, and industrial sectors, aimed at stimulating the economy and supporting the Kingdom's economic transformation. These giga projects, central to Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, are designed to open new economic avenues, create job opportunities, and contribute to economic, social and cultural diversification. Described as “the crown jewels” of Vision 2030 by the government, they represent a crucial part of Saudi Arabia’s future.

The term 'giga project' is specific to Saudi Arabia's capital program, highlighting the scale and importance of these initiatives. Currently, five developments are officially recognized as giga projects: NEOM, the Red Sea Project, Qiddiya, Roshn, and Diriyah Gate. As other large-scale projects advance, they too may join the ranks of these significant developments. This article will review key data on Riyadh Expo 2030, look at some of the giga projects outlined in the Vision 2030 document, and focus on the ongoing construction efforts at NEOM.

Riyadh Expo 2030 at a Glance

The Riyadh Expo 2030 stands as a hallmark event for Saudi Arabia, showcasing its commitment to global connectivity and innovation. With an official budget of $7.8 billion, the Expo is a significant investment in the nation's future. A notable portion of this budget, approximately $400 million, is dedicated to assisting developing nations in constructing their pavilions, emphasizing Saudi Arabia's role in fostering international collaboration.

Riyadh Expo 2030 site - image courtesy RCRC
Riyadh Expo 2030 site - image courtesy RCRC

Strategically located to the north of Riyadh, near the King Khalid International Airport (KKIA), the Expo site benefits from its proximity to major transport links. Plans are in place to potentially extend the Riyadh metro, including a dedicated station to serve the Expo, enhancing connectivity with KKIA.

In a departure from traditional designs, the Expo site will feature a circular layout, setting it apart from previous World Expos. The bid process and the development of the masterplan have been overseen by the Royal Commission for Riyadh City (RCRC) and their in-house architectural team. Currently, it remains undecided whether the RCRC will continue as the client for the site's infrastructure and construction, or if a new entity will be established for this purpose.

An integral part of the preparations for Expo 2030 is the redevelopment of the King Khalid International Airport (KKIA) and then becoming King Salman International Airport in Riyadh. This expansion and renovation project, recently announced, will be led by the renowned architecture firm Foster and Partners in collaboration with Typsa Group.

The Saudi Giga Project Program

Saudi Arabia's giga project program, a cornerstone of its Vision 2030, is a bold venture split between projects directly owned and financed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and those funded by the government through public entities. The PIF, with assets exceeding $500 billion, plays a crucial role in these initiatives. Initially, the state or the PIF has funded the necessary transport and basic infrastructure for each development. However, the aim is for these projects to eventually attract both foreign and local private investments. To date, private sector investment has been limited, but it's expected to grow as the projects progress.

King Salman International Airport (KSIA) render - image courtesy Arch20
King Salman International Airport (KSIA) proposed design - image courtesy Arch20

Recently, there has been a shift towards self-financing for these projects. Various project companies have started to raise their own finance, gradually reducing their dependence on state funding. A notable strategy in the pipeline is the potential privatization of some giga projects through an IPO process, especially for those starting to generate their own revenue streams.

All giga projects are under a fast-track implementation schedule, with the first phases aimed for completion between 2023 and 2025. Despite the ambitious timelines, it's observed that the progress has been somewhat slower than initially planned, a reflection of the challenges posed by the projects' immense scale. This slower pace is indicative of the contracting, engineering, labor, and logistical hurdles Saudi Arabia faces in realizing this ambitious program.

What Are Saudi Arabia's Giga Projects?

The giga projects, as outlined in the Saudi Vision 2030 document, encompass a wide range of developments, each with its unique focus and potential impact. These include:

  1. NEOM,
  2. Red Sea Project,
  3. Amaala,
  4. Qiddiya,
  5. SEVEN,
  6. Roshn,
  7. Rua Al Madinah,
  8. Jeddah Central,
  9. Soudah Development,
  10. Boutique Group,
  11. Saudi Downtown,
  12. AlUla,
  13. Diriyah Gate,
  14. King Salman Park,
  15. Sports Boulevard,
  16. King Salman International Airport,
  17. and New Murabba.
New Murabba project initial design proposal - image courtesy ConstructionWeek Saudi
New Murabba project initial design proposal - image courtesy ConstructionWeek Saudi

Each project represents a facet of Saudi Arabia's vision for a diverse and dynamic future, underpinning the country's ambitious goals for economic and social transformation. Let’s look at the current developments and plans happening at NEOM, Saudi’s most notable giga project at the moment.

NEOM: A Saudi Vision 2030 Crown Jewel

NEOM, a $500 billion high-tech, greenfield urban megaproject, stands as a testament to Saudi Arabia's forward-thinking and innovation-driven vision. Owned entirely by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), NEOM is a reimagining of urban life on a grand scale, spanning an area comparable to Belgium. Located in the Tabuk Province of Northwestern Saudi Arabia, NEOM is a bold step into the future of city living, integrating advanced technology with sustainable practices.

NEOM masterplan - image courtesy Business Insider
NEOM masterplan - image courtesy Business Insider

This ambitious project comprises several key components: The Line, Oxagon, Trojena, and Shusha Island. Each of these masterplans within NEOM offers a unique perspective on urban development, blending in with the natural landscape while pushing the boundaries of technological innovation.

Over the past five years, NEOM has seen a significant increase in the number of contracts awarded, signaling steady progress in line with its planned timeline. The scope of these contracts is vast, encompassing various sectors such as chemical, construction, gas, industrial, power, transport, and water developments. As of October 2023, the value of contracts awarded for NEOM has reached an impressive $31.1 billion. This uptick in contract awards indicates that NEOM is transitioning from the planning stages to more tangible phases of infrastructure and construction work.

The Line

Within the visionary scope of NEOM, The Line stands out as a groundbreaking concept in urban development. Envisioned as a linear city, The Line stretches over 170 kilometers, yet maintains a remarkably narrow footprint of just 200 meters wide. This innovative design ensures that the total area occupied by The Line, at 34 square kilometers, constitutes a mere 2% of the footprint of a conventional city.

The Line at NEOM project design proposal - image courtesy Global Construction Review
The Line at NEOM project design proposal - image courtesy Global Construction Review

The Line's structure is composed of 135 interconnected modules, each extending 1.3 kilometers in length and soaring to heights of 500 meters above sea level. By standardizing the core elements of each module, the project aims to optimize compatibility across different functions while significantly reducing construction costs.

Each module within The Line is a self-contained unit, featuring a diverse mix of retail, leisure, commercial, residential, hospitality, and health facilities. This self-sufficiency is key to the design, ensuring that residents have easy access to all necessary amenities within their immediate environment. Notably, The Line sits on top of a transit system capable of moving people from one end to the other in 20 minutes.

One of the most striking features of The Line is its integration with the natural landscape. Part of the structure is planned to run through a mountain, showcasing an impressive harmony between modern architecture and the natural world.

Oxagon

Designed as a floating industrial complex, Oxagon is poised to become a pivotal node in global shipping routes through the Red Sea. This project represents a blend of innovation, sustainability, and strategic economic growth. The complex is divided into two main clusters: the Northern and Southern. The Northern Cluster, encompassing a span of 7 kilometers, is earmarked to be the world’s largest floating structure. It integrates a fully automated port and a diverse range of industrial developments across seven sectors, including manufacturing and innovation. The Southern Cluster, on the other hand, is dedicated to the production of green hydrogen and ammonia, signaling a commitment to clean energy.

Oxagon at NEOM project design proposal - image courtesy NEOM
Oxagon at NEOM project design proposal - image courtesy NEOM

Oxagon's development is structured into seven key phases:

- Port and Logistics Park: This phase, valued at $1 billion, includes constructing an onshore logistics center, an administrative building, and terminal expansion. Key components also involve offshore dredging and the construction of a quay wall, with expansion plans for Duba Port. Nesma & Partners, under Parsons as the Project Management Consultant (PMC) and Aecom as the consultant, are the announced contractors for this phase.

- Oxagon Village: With a contract value of $900 million, this phase encompasses residential developments, infrastructural works, and the construction of two 4-star hotels, one 3-star hotel, and one 5-star hotel tower.

- Manufacturing Hub: This hub is designed to host a hydrogen-powered vehicle assembly plant with a capacity of 10,000 vehicles per annum. Hyzon and Modern Industrial Investment Holding Group have already signed an MoU for space in this hub.

- Energy, Water & Food Innovation Hub: This phase includes works for seawater intake and a water bottling facility as part of the Zone A Mineralization Plant.

- Jabal Village: Valued at $10 million, this phase covers earthworks, infrastructure, and site clearance, with contracts awarded to Nesma & Partners and Trevi SpA. Additionally, a $10 million excavation, site preparation, and clearance contract for Zone D site works has been awarded to Mofarreh Alharbi as contractor and MEP.

- Research and Innovation Hub: Scheduled to open in 2023, this hub will feature the Hydrogen Innovation and Development Center (HIDC), in partnership with Saudi Aramco and ENOWA. It will focus on operational data from the facility's first 20 MW electrolyzer from Thyssenkrupp Nucera, including a filling station and distribution technology.

- Cruise Terminal and Blue Economy Industries: This phase involves developing a fish hatchery, marine biotechnology, an Oceanographic Research Center, and an Off-Shore Community. Additionally, a Wadi is planned, with an MoU signed between the Jeddah Central Project’s master developer JCDC and Cruise Saudi for the development works.

Shusha Island

Shusha Island, an upcoming luxury island destination within Saudi Arabia's NEOM, is set to redefine the essence of coastal luxury and ecological conservation. Announced in March 2023, Shusha Island is designed to harmonize luxurious living with environmental mindfulness, featuring the world's largest coral garden as its centerpiece.

Shusha Island at NEOM project design proposal - image courtesy ResortX
Shusha Island at NEOM project design proposal - image courtesy ResortX

Located off the Red Sea coast, Shusha Island's blueprint includes a range of high-end facilities and attractions:

- World’s Largest Coral Garden: Scheduled for completion by 2025, the coral garden is not just an attraction but a conservation effort, including a nursery and research center dedicated to marine life preservation.

- Marina: A floating marina with 43 berths and two airplane docks, embodying luxury and convenience for sea and air travelers.

- Hotels: The island will host three hotels, ranging from a 200-meter high, 300-key standalone hotel to smaller, more intimate boutique hotels with 60 to 70 keys each.

- Residential Apartments: A total of 530 residential apartments will offer premium living experiences, integrating seamlessly with the island's natural beauty.

- Beach Club and Diving Center: These facilities will provide residents and visitors with recreational and leisure activities, emphasizing the island's coastal charm.

- Floating Amphitheater: An innovative addition that blends entertainment with the serene aquatic environment.

- Underwater Museum: Offering an immersive and unique experience, the museum will provide visitors with a glimpse into the marine world while highlighting the importance of ocean conservation.

- Research Centre: Focused on marine research, contributing to global knowledge and local ecosystem preservation.

As of October 2023, contracts worth $620 million are in the bidding process, covering the construction of the marina, marina center, and grotto entrance. Shusha Island continues NEOM's commitment to creating spaces that are luxurious, sustainable, and in harmony with nature.

Al Marwan Machinery's large CAT D11 dozer at work on the NEOM construction site in Saudi Arabia
Al Marwan Machinery's large CAT D11 dozer at work on the NEOM construction site in Saudi Arabia

The journey towards Riyadh Expo 2030 and the completion of Saudi Arabia's ambitious gigaprojects under Vision 2030, including NEOM and its remarkable developments like The Line, Oxagon, and Shusha Island, signifies a monumental shift in the construction and development landscape. These projects, characterized by their scale, innovation, and technological integration, underscore a growing demand for high-quality heavy equipment. The successful realization of these mega projects, with their unique challenges and immense scale, hinges on the availability and utilization of robust and advanced heavy machinery. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed on the latest industry news.

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