The Linear City Is Reborn With Saudi Arabia's Plans for a 106-Mile Mirrored City

New renderings of the Saudi Arabian city are a look into the future and the past

The End of THE LINE
The End of THE LINE.


Saudi Arabia released renderings of its 105-mile-long linear city that promises to have "zero cars, zero streets, and zero emissions." Called The Line, the concept was unveiled in early 2021. Now Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shares more details, saying in a statement:

“At THE LINE’s launch last year, we committed to a civilizational revolution that puts humans first based on a radical change in urban planning. The designs revealed today for the city's vertically layered communities will challenge the traditional flat, horizontal cities and create a model for nature preservation and enhanced human livability. THE LINE will tackle the challenges facing humanity in urban life today and will shine a light on alternative ways to live.”

Some are calling it "a huge dystopian wall in the desert." One might also point out that it would be impossible for a young woman to actually fly around Saudi Arabia alone in jeans and a T-shirt as in the video, as Saudi women must have a male guardian. But let's put that aside for now and look at how the concept has evolved.

Roadtown linear city
Roadtown linear city, 1910.

Edgar Chambliss

In our earlier post on The Line, we noted the idea of a linear city makes a lot of sense. Madrid had the first, with La Ciudad Lineal in 1882 built around a streetcar line. Edgar Chambless described "Roadtown" in 1910, writing: "The idea occurred to me to lay the modern skyscraper on its side and run the elevators and the pipes and wires horizontally instead of vertically." American architects Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman proposed the Jersey Corridor project in 1965.

A green section of the interior
A green section of the interior.


We often quote Jarrett Walker's tweet, "land use and transportation are the same things described in different languages." I wrote previously that "the linear city, in all of its incarnations, is a demonstration of how the transportation system really is driving the built form and the land use concept. They are one and the same thing." Or, "how you get around determines what you build."

That's the driving principle of The Line: It is sitting on top of a high-speed rail line—previously a hyperloop—that can get you from one end to the other in 20 minutes. But when you get off the train and are in your own neighborhood, it's a 5-minute city.

"THE LINE offers a new approach to urban design: The idea of layering city functions vertically while giving people the possibility of moving seamlessly in three dimensions (up, down or across) to access them is a concept referred to as Zero Gravity Urbanism. Different from just tall buildings, this concept layers public parks and pedestrian areas, schools, homes and places for work, so that one can move effortlessly to reach all daily needs within five minutes."
Looking down THE LINE
Looking down THE LINE.


It's really just a modern version of a classic streetcar suburb; you have your linear transport system and move perpendicular to it to get home, parallel to it to get services. Except when you add the vertical dimension, nature is never more than 300 feet away horizontally and you have multiple layers of services and housing above, all facing into a 105-mile-long atrium. Or, as they say on the website:

"Our progressive design offers immediate and uninterrupted access to nature within a two-minute walk through its diverse open spaces, suspended on multiple levels. Equitable access to pristine views of the surrounding natural landscape, mountains and sky – for all – avoiding urban sprawl thanks to a reduced infrastructure footprint."
Yachts reflected in THE LINE
Yachts reflected in THE LINE.


"THE LINE will have an outer mirror facade that will provide its unique character and allow even its small footprint to blend with nature, while the interior will be built to create extraordinary experiences and magical moments. It will be created by a team of world-renowned architects and engineers, led by NEOM, to develop this revolutionary concept for the city of the future."
Psychedelic Disco section of THE LINE
Psychedelic Disco section of THE LINE.


They do not reveal who the architects and engineers that put this proposal together are, but whoever did the architectural renderings deserves to be world-renowned; the late Syd Mead might have enjoyed these.

Wedding by the pool
Wedding by the pool.


The renderings also remind me of the O'Neill Cylinder renderings by Don Davis and Rick Guidice, done for NASA in the '70s; they are both self-contained cities in hostile environments. This one is complete with parks, swimming pools, and down in the bottom right, a very non-Saudi wedding.

You can actually get outdoors on THE LINE
You can actually get outdoors on THE LINE.


Whether or not this is the most appropriate place to put THE LINE—Chambliss wanted people to walk perpendicular to it into farmland—it's hard to argue with its ambitions:

"The designs of THE LINE embody how urban communities will be in the future in an environment free from roads, cars and emissions. It will run on 100% renewable energy and prioritize people's health and well-being over transportation and infrastructure as in traditional cities. It puts nature ahead of development and will contribute to preserving 95% of NEOM’s land."
A waterfall on THE LINE
A waterfall on THE LINE.


We have spent too many decades prioritizing cars and roads over the needs of people's health and well-being. Linear cities remain a very interesting alternative form of development.