Mohamed Saad

Launched at MAPIC 2021, Diriyah Square is the commercial heart of the Diriyah giga-project on the edge of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Here, RLI speaks with Mohamed Saad, Chief Development Officer, DGDA about this game-changing project that will become the Kingdom’s historic and cultural heart and a new global landmark.

The upcoming scheme is designed to showcase to the world over 300 years of Saudi Arabian history through an engaging and inspiring collection of retail, educational, cultural, hospitality and dining led experiences for residents, tourists and visitors.

The mandate of DGDA is four-fold, first and foremost it is to preserve the At-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage Site and neighbouring Wadi Hanifah. Secondly, to transform Diriyah into a vibrant cultural and lifestyle destination. Thirdly, to celebrate Diriyah’s culture, preserve its identity and transform residents’ lives for generations to come and finally to oversee a 190sq km supervisory area that implements world-class standards in urban and municipal affairs.

Diriyah Square Retail

Divided into four masterplans, DGDA will be overseeing the construction of Diriyah Gate I and II, Wadi Hanifah and Wadi Safar. Diriyah Gate I will become a mixed-use traditional urban community that is to be created in an authentic Najdi architectural style, typical of Saudi villages, using the same mud bricks and plaster used centuries ago while providing modern amenities. Meanwhile Diriyah Gate II is envisioned to be a Parisian scale, pedestrian focused mixed-use development in close proximity to the historic Diriyah Gate development. Blending the old and the new, the development aims to be recognised for its unique vision and positioned as an authentic destination in Saudi Arabia.

An additional aspect of the Diriyah Gate development masterplan is Wadi Hanifah, which is the first stage of the renewal and restoration of more than 2sq km of the historic site. The enhancements include the restoration of the historic palm groves and farms and, upon completion, will be one of the Kingdom’s largest historic national parks where culture and history meet to provide recreation and preservation. The final masterplan is for Wadi Safar, which will become 60sq km of pure magnificence, tranquillity and is being built upon the legacy of the past with a bold vision shaping its future.

“What’s unique about Diriyah is that it has been around for centuries and is the birthplace of the Kingdom, while Wadi Safar is a globally peerless, one-of-a-kind, ultra-luxurious destination – the future residence of Saudi Arabia’s most discerning and playground for the global elite. Its land, which will be priced amongst the most premium in the world, will house the estates of Saudi Arabia’s most influential. The world-class hospitality and lifestyle assets which include a Greg Norman Golf Course, the Royal Diriyah Polo & Equestrian Club, 3 Retail Hubs and a Friday mosque will be complemented by 37 parks, open spaces, and 42km of trails, which will help attract luxury leisure travellers from around the world. It is recognised as a symbolic centre of inspiration for the generations of leaders that have led the Kingdom since the foundation of the first Saudi state in 1727,” explains Mohamed Saad, Chief Development Officer, Diriyah Gate Development Authority.

Diriyah Square Hotel

“Since 2017, the Diriyah masterplan has grown from 7sq km to over 11sq km and this is a testament to the amazingly talented team at DGDA that has enabled His Royal Highness to entrust us with more work and realise his vision for the project on a much grander scale. Upon completion in the coming years, the destination will offer a diverse collection of museums and cultural attractions, an ultra-luxury retail offering, and a line-up of revered international and local dining brands within the recently revealed Bujairi Terrace.”

With a scheme of this magnitude, staying on track and on budget is of paramount importance, and the team at DGDA continue to do just that. This is a great achievement considering the amount of works happening around the site today.
Saad explains that some of the recent key milestones include the diversion of the Western Ring Road, completed in just 63 days, seeing the relocation of three kilometres of the eight-lane highway without any closures or disruptions. DGDA have also awarded their largest ever contract of nearly SAR 4 billion to Salini for the Diriyah Square super car park, which will eventually be home to 10,500 spaces underground. In addition, the bulk excavation required for the construction of Diriyah Square saw the removal of eight million cubic metres of rock to reach a level of 40m, all done under the best practice sustainability measures and creating the largest hole ever dug in Riyadh!

“From an asset point-of-view, we are very excited to open Bujairi Terrace which will be Riyadh’s premier dining destination when it opens shortly. This will not only be the first in Diriyah but also the first of any giga-project in the Kingdom, a very proud moment for all of us at DGDA,” says Saad.
The upcoming scheme is set to revive and promote the significance of Diriyah’s role as the cultural centre of the Arab world and, when finished, will become the largest cultural and heritage city on Earth. Diriyah has also been selected by The Arab League’s Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALESCO) to become the capital of Arab culture for the year 2030.

21st Century Workplaces

DGDA’s vision is to create a world-class destination for visitors and locals alike within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) that will become renowned for being resilient to climate change, promote cultural heritage, ensure thriving, vibrant and healthy communities and provide a high quality of life whilst promoting equality.

Across the world, sustainability is a major factor and something that must be taken into account when developing new projects. With this in mind, DGDA has ensured that its core vision of sustainability has been devised to support and guide the inclusion and implementation of sustainability practices and tactics throughout the design, construction and operational phases of the development of the scheme. In addition, a range of sustainability and resiliency initiatives have been proposed to restore and even positively enhance the natural environment.

“The project aims to be among the first in KSA to achieve certification under the USGBC’s scheme LEED Cities & Communities at Gold level. LEED is a well-established and prestigious sustainability certification, with international visibility,” Saad explains. “The Diriyah Development also aims to be among the first projects to achieve Mostadam for Communities certification for multiple districts, at a gold level.”

A scheme that is comprised of many different facets, the role of retail remains one of the core pillars in the make-up of Diriyah. The commercial heart of the masterplan will be Diriyah Square, a luxury retail district unmatched in size and offering. Set to cover an area of 180,000sq m, Diriyah Square will be a completely new lifestyle experience for Saudi Arabia with the retail offering combining iconic global brands with traditional artisan shops and souks, set within an authentic Najdi village atmosphere.

Diriyah Square

Alongside retail, this element will also feature world-class hospitality, branded residential and workplaces. With Quality of Life as one of its main experience pillars, Diriyah Square will be focused on wellness with its plethora of offerings in health, self-care, fitness and wellbeing.

“Diriyah Square will be home to over 400 of the world’s finest brands; complemented by an additional 100 authentic local Saudi artisan souks. The destination is more of a premium luxury offering with brands that attract the discerning shopper and is divided into the main neighbourhoods of luxury, fashion, urban, F&B and leisure and culture,” comments Saad.
The overall retail offering is complemented by five Grade-A premium office buildings, five upper-luxury hotels, three branded residences, 25 open-air event spaces and a completely car-free, walkable district.

Diriyah Square is directly connected to the escarpment walk of Wadi Hanifah, offers direct access to Heroes Park and it is anchored by King Salman Grand Mosque which has a capacity of 14,000 people.
The site provides retailers with a unique opportunity to showcase their brand and their brand experience in its truest representation for the first time in the Kingdom. The cultural significance of Diriyah Square along with the unique location provides a compelling backdrop and will allow brands to express themselves as part of an authentic and relevant lifestyle destination.

Resort overlooking Wadi Hanifah

Alongside the retail element, the F&B offering at the soon to be opened Bujairi Terrace has been meticulously curated to cater for both local and international markets. The asset will feature more than 20 food and beverage brands, four of which are Michelin starred restaurants – Bruno, Tatel, Hakkasan and Long Chim. Meanwhile Mastro’s, Bruno and Café de L’Esplanade are all brand new names to the wider Middle East region. “It’s the first time Mastro’s has opened a restaurant outside the US, and the first time that Bruno and Café de L’Esplanade have restaurants outside of France. COVA, a historic Pasticceria dating back to 1817 also makes its first appearance in the KSA. We are also immensely proud of our very own home-grown local champions opening up outlets too, including GRIND, Somewhere and Sum + Things.”

As part of the transformation of the area, DGDA are also planning 20 luxury hotels and Saad explains that layers of considerations go into selecting the right hospitality partners for the destination. Firstly, an overriding key factor is their mandate which is to preserve At-Turaif, the ‘Jewel of the Kingdom’, and therefore the brands must showcase a fitting tribute to the Kingdom’s glorious heritage. Secondly, a hotel partner is chosen carefully in order to be included in the curated portfolio of brands with guests’ experience in mind as DGDA wants to ensure that the highest standard of hospitality will always be synonymous with visiting Diriyah.

Wadi Hanifah Park

“For example, the uniquely located Capella hotel in the heart of the upcoming King Salman Square will embody excellence and combine tradition, discovery and individuality. The Ritz Carlton will feature a distinctive offering with a more boutique, intimate and ultra-luxury escape coupled with an exclusive and limited selection of its branded residences, Orient Express, on the other hand, will debut its first hotel in the Middle East with its forthcoming property which will showcase numerous opportunities to link the nomadic design, unexpected encounters and the spirit of the Orient Express brand, with ultra-high end luxury retail and the story of Diriyah to create a regional flagship for the brand,” explains Saad.

As the project continues to move forward the key priorities include the launch of Bujairi Terrace, the commencement of construction on a range of hotels, museums and residential communities, the launch of sales of the first residential community and the completion of the first phase of the Wadi Hanifah restoration plan.

“When completed, Diriyah is destined to become a world-class lifestyle destination with Saudi’s greatest collection of luxury retail, museums and cultural attractions, luxury international hotels and resorts, leisure and dining experiences, making it the world’s largest cultural and lifestyle mud city,” concludes Saad.