Maraya was the first project to be developed for the Journey Through Time Masterplan 1; aimed at turning AlUla, KSA into a living museum and share its cultural legacy with the world. The first brief from the client was to have a complex able to host concerts and events in an area of enormous archaeological and scenic value; a valley in the region of Al-’Ula surrounded by the presence of ruins from the Nabataean empire and 200,000 years of heritage. Our mission was based on figuring out how we could build in such a beautiful and meaningful place and we wondered how to establish a relationship between the construct and the existing in the most respectful way possible.
The biggest challenge was having to create in a pure and untouched territory that is being developed and discovered from a cultural point of view. In order to do a service to the territory, creating a “site-specific landmark” was key. So came the idea of the mirror (”Maraya” means mirror / reflection is arabic). If a building can not compete with the landscape it should enhance it, thus, the building became a theatre for what surrounds it (which is the real attraction). The silent and respectful mirror cube is a way to create a dialogue between nature, history and the future. From the very beginning we had the idea of bringing the landscape into the theatre, of making the context the stage; thus creating the gigantic stage opening to the outside.
Maraya is a multi-purpose theatre, entertainment and conference venue. It welcomes Opera, concerts, shows, business events, meetings, congresses, incentives and weddings. It is a 3 storey, 100x100x26m cuboid steel frame, cladded with 9,740sqm of mirrors that cover the exterior with a monumental entrance hall that can host internationally curated exhibitions.
Maraya has a unique and unseen stage set up: a great 40m x 15m stage, with a giant retractable window of over 800 square meters that opens up to the surrounding nature, allowing shows to take place directly on the desert level where mass-coreo can perform in a unique in-and-outdoor scenario, blending landscape and entertainment. Complete with all state of the art facilities, the Maraya Concert Hall can host international productions from opera to ballets, shows and concerts. The hall is 26 metres in height, which means that stage sets can be moved around just as they are in the world’s leading opera houses.
Inside, the main auditorium houses 500 seats, along with five VIP boxes with space for up to 60 more guests. Other facilities include a roof terrace, a conference center, exhibition space and a restaurant. The aim was to add something to the past, not replace it. And it’s when you’ve seen everything that you go back to the essential. An essential that is not just to be lived, but that stirs the emotions; just like a performance. In 2019-20 Maraya becomes a permanent Architecture and Land Art installation, a keystone participant of the cultural process of this area.
There was an extensive study on the selection of the mirror to arrive at a level of reflection and brilliance that would maintain high level of fidelity to the AlUla colours within the surrounding landscape. A total of 3,000 pre-tempered panels were manufactured locally by Guardian Glass, which adapted its highly durable UltraMirror product to withstand harsh conditions like wind, sandstorms and extreme temperature fluctuations.
The mirror façade was a challenge due to the coplanarity of the various panels which need air passages and space since they tend to expands in high temperatures; to maintain the most visual uniformity possible, there was an extensive study on the joints between the tiles and the effect that this varying material was going to have. Subtle curvature on the façade means that, from a distance, the building looks like a shimmering mirage of the surrounding panorama – but as visitors move closer, they see a perfect reflection of themselves. As for the interiors, one finds materials that evoke naturalness, which blend with the colours and textures of the landscape. For the internal cladding, a custom made tile was been designed that reproduces the spirit and shades of AlUla, just like the custom Poltrona Frau seats and terrace materials.
The main technological innovation of the Maraya Concert Hall is the implementation of automation in the giant door behind the stage which opens to bring the outside in and can become part of scenic movement during performances. In addition to this, a particular study was made on the structural engineering of the stage, resulting in an extremely high hanging capacity, remarkably increasing the flexibility of use. The construction system of the cube was conceived as a steel structure, both for its non invasive properties and because it was the only way to achieve the 72 days construction schedule needed to be able to host the “Winter at Tantoora” event.