The Line: Mohammed bin Salman’s desert fantasy

Will Saudi Arabia’s mooted ‘vertical city’ turn out to be MbS’ pyramids?

Saudi Arabia wants to build a vertical city called The Line
‘A blueprint for urban development’?
(Image credit:

“Often, on the internet, completely deranged CGI infrastructure concepts cooked up by bored design students go mildly viral,” said James Vincent on The Verge (New York). Buses on stilts, for instance, or nuclear-powered flying hotels. Very rarely are these “half-baked” ideas backed by one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds. But such is the case with Saudi Arabia’s plan to build “a huge mirrored wall in the desert”. Saudi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), wants to build a mega-development on the Red Sea coast, dubbed Neom.

Last week, the plan for The Line, a “vertical city” that will form Neom’s centrepiece, was unveiled. It will be 500m tall (57m taller than the Empire State Building), 170km in length, and covered in mirrors. The structure will be comprised of two huge parallel buildings, connected via walkways, with parks, pools and public amenities in between. It will be carbon zero. Food will be grown in automated farms. A high-speed train will run under it, going from end to end in 20 minutes.

The Line isn’t as “crazy as it first appears”, said Gernot Kramper in Der Stern (Hamburg). Dubai, after all, rose from the desert in a mere 30 years. The plan is to have 1.5 million people living there by 2030, half Saudi and half foreign, with ultra-low taxation and an autonomous legal system outside Saudi’s sharia law. The slim footprint will mean cars won’t be needed; people will walk or go by train. The mirrors are to keep out the Sun, in an area with ultra-high temperatures. They will create “its own biosphere”, suitable for humans and plants all year round. It’s “a blueprint for urban development on an overheated planet”.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The Line will in time accommodate nine million people on just 34 square kilometres, said Arab News (Riyadh) – “unheard of when compared to other cities of similar capacity”. It will achieve “harmony” between development and the preservation of nature. “Bringing Neom out of the realm of science fiction is proving a formidable challenge,” said Vivian Nereim on Bloomberg (New York) – even for a near-absolute ruler with a $620bn sovereign wealth fund. The project has been plagued by setbacks, “many stemming from the difficulty of implementing MbS’s grandiose, ever-changing ideas” (he reportedly regards The Line as “my pyramids”). Many millions have been spent on architects, futurists, even Hollywood set designers; so far only a handful of buildings have been built. “The chaotic trajectory of Neom so far suggests that MbS’s urban dream may never be delivered.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.