The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) announces Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan as architects for two upcoming museums in its constellation of cultural assets. Ghotmeh will lead the design for the contemporary art museum, and Khan will cover the museum of the Incense Road. Both projects are situated in AlUla, a destination in northwest Saudi Arabia with 7,000 years of continuous human history. The news was spotlighted during the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale at the Metropole Hotel, where Ghotmeh and Khan participated in a discussion alongside British art critic Iwona Blazwick.


Awarded an MBE for his services to architecture and currently working on the renewal of the Barbican Centre and the new London Museum, Asif Khan is known for his radical approach to architecture, which merges history with the future, grounding projects in material experimentation and social context.­ Award-winning Lina Ghotmeh, designing the 2023 Serpentine Pavilion, creates work at the intersection of art, architecture, and design. Her practice is developed through thorough historical research, emerging in complete symbiosis with nature as exquisite interventions that enliven memories and the senses.

lina ghotmeh and asif khan appointed as lead architects for two major museums in AlUla
Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan | image © Luke Walker, courtesy Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU)



two major PROJECTS IN ALULA celebrating regional culture


Set under the leadership of RCU’s Nora Albadal and Iwona Blazwick, the Contemporary Art Museum in AlUla is a museum of regional and global contemporary art with Arabia at its heart. Offering a core collection of works by artists from regions adjoining the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean in dialogue with their contemporaries worldwide, it aims to evolve in partnership with these artists, including a robust program of commissioned works. As the primary art museum in AlUla, it contributes to the region’s legacy as a cultural beacon, generating opportunities for artists, designers, creatives, and curators.


An adjoining series of artist-designed gardens will ensure the experience is connected to the landscape in which it sits. Integrated into the distinctive AlUla oasis, set amongst vegetable gardens, palm groves, mountain ranges, and an ancient settlement, the museum will explore sensitive environmental design and function as a catalyst for ecological renewal and regeneration of the oasis. It will be structured as an archipelago of pavilion galleries interspersed with a mosaic of artist gardens. Its balance of interior and exterior galleries and gardens will allow visitors to define their encounters with art and the natural landscape.



video © designboom 



The architecture of the contemporary art museum in AlUla immerses visitors in a creative journey from the desert expanse to the lush cultural oasis of AlUla, interweaving the natural environment, agriculture and art to reveal the heart of contemporary culture. Through a series of garden pavilions, the museum presents a constant interplay between art and nature, capturing the essence of this unique place. The galleries offer surprising and anchored perspectives on the many facets of AlUla, from the microclimates of the oasis to the expanse of the desert, evoking a deep sense of attachment to the land and its heritage,’ writes Lina Ghomeh (see more here).


The Museum of the Incense Road — under Eman Alankari and Dr. Helen McGauran — will be the world’s first museum dedicated to this epic and millennia-old network of major land and sea trading routes, celebrating AlUla’s cultural legacy as a place of exchange at the confluence of civilizations. Bringing to life global histories through which ideas, goods, and culture were exchanged, it shines a light on north-west Arabia as a cultural epicenter. Living and dynamic narratives will include: spotlighting the discoveries of ongoing excavations, highlighting the active nature of AlUla’s archaeological sites, and the cultural importance of the Incense Road. At the forefront of innovative museum practice, it will enable visitors to engage through layered, multidisciplinary interpretation anchored by carefully curated collections.

lina ghotmeh and asif khan appointed as lead architects for two major museums in AlUla
installations at AlUla arts valley | visualization by Atelier Monolit. © ATHR Gallery



The museum is being developed in dialogue with AlUla’s ancient heritage – including Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site – and its host village, AlJadidah. It will be an extension of the urban fabric that sits towards the oasis edge, looking out on a vista where Dadan and Hegra – once vibrant cities that thrived as a result of the Incense Road – are located. Guided by subject experts and the local community, the new complex will continue to be developed through extensive local and international collaboration with specialists across fields, including academia and museology.


Architect Asif Khan shares his reflections on the project: AlUla resonated with me deeply, as did the local community members I met. The design takes the form of a public space, not a museum within walls, situated in AlJadidah village with galleries and spaces for sensory experiences and learning. The mountains are a constant background, whose sand dunes reach down to greet the edges of the museum, while stepped terraces of gardens act as a new interface between the village and the oasis. I am excited about how the museum of the Incense Road can be brought into the collective memory of the world and become a transformative asset for the local community.’

lina ghotmeh and asif khan appointed as lead architects for two major museums in AlUla
desert X AlUla 2022: ‘Where the dwellers lay’ by Dana Awartani | image © Roberto Conte



Both museums offer a unique entry point into AlUla’s rich and extensive cultural offering and will be developed with a socially responsible approach to the preservation, interpretation, meaningful community engagement, and presentation of AlUla’s cultural inheritance. In addition, they will consider reducing environmental impact while building significant spaces, particularly regarding conservation, controlled temperature, humidity, and lighting, and will work with a network of cultural leaders at an institutional, thematic, and discipline level in the spirit of reciprocal exchange.


Lina Ghotmeh and Asif Khan were chosen through an international competition with a jury comprising key stakeholders and specialists in architecture, landscape, and museology, supported by a technical panel, and was chaired by Dr. Khaled Azzam, the architect of AlUla’s Journey Through Time Masterplan.

lina ghotmeh and asif khan appointed as lead architects for two major museums in AlUla
in conversation with Iwona Blazwick at the Metropole Hotel Venice | image © designboom



project info:


museums location: AlUla, Saudi Arabia

commissioned by: Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU)


— Contemporary Art Museum — 
Lina Gotmeh | @linaghotmeh

lead curators: Nora Albadal and Iwona Blazwick


— Museum of the Incense Road — 

architect: Asif Khan @asifkhan.now

lead curators: Eman Alankari and Dr. Helen McGauran