AlUla enjoys a long-established reputation as a place of unparalleled human and natural heritage—a landscape that stirs souls and animates creative echoes. Located in northwest Saudi Arabia, the city encompasses over 200,000 years of unexplored human history, from the Nabatean city of Hegra—Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site—to the tombs of the stone-built capital of the Dadanite and Lihyanite Kingdoms, and the ancient ruins of AlUla Old Town. The extensive festival and events calendar traversing arts, culture, music, and more, that unfolds in AlUla is a testimony of its preeminence in modern and contemporary culture. Time and again, the place and its picturesque settings have been a muse for artists and designers, and understandably so; this collection of functional objects is an iteration of the design community’s admiration for the breathtaking location.
Niko Kapa, a Greek architect and designer based in Dubai, sculpts an ensemble of innovative products—Dune valet tray, Wadi bowl, Harrat desk organiser, and Naqsh spice and herbs cellar—informed by the natural environment of AlUla; “interpreting the region’s natural and cultural legacies into exceptional products for contemporary audiences,” while taking into consideration AlUla’s landscape, archaeology, and history. Nature becomes a guiding force and a tool in mass-produced objects that possess handmade qualities, striking a dialogue between the ancient and the contemporary, and a larger dialogue between AlUla and the world. Kapa was recognised by the AlUla Design Award for the unique accessories inspired by the heritage and artistic legacies of AlUla.
Earthy manifestations of AlUla’s scenery and culture
Developed through extensive material research, the product designs emulate volcanic landscapes, desert dunes, and sandstone mountains. The designer aspires to combine local craftsmanship and contemporary design, subsequently amalgamating art and functionality. The collection of utensils adheres to a zero-waste-making process that involves upcycling and recycling. The sculptural attributes of the Arabian scenery are translated into functional objects, receptacles, and valet trays using the same material that paints the landscape: sand. Recycled concrete and recycled ceramics become the bonding agents for desert sand, while natural earth pigments enliven it with colours.
Relationship between form and the material that realises it
The designer’s choice of construction material is a palpable ode to one of the area’s most abundant natural resources: sand. Fuelled by meticulous material research, the environmentally conscious cement composite encompasses desert sand as the main component desert and recycled AshCrete as a bonding agent for the sand. AshCrete being 97% fly ash is a sustainable choice—reusing a waste product and substituting the energy-intensive components of traditional concrete. The close collaboration between material technology and design processes terminates in a porous substance with a stone-like matte finish texture, almost a recreation of the local rocky landscape. To replicate the warm colour palette of earth, red clay is utilised as a natural pigment. By exploring and using proximity to the resource origin advantageously, the transportation cost of raw materials—and the associated carbon footprint—is reduced to a minimum.
A zero-waste-making process
The manufacturing process aspires to reduce the impact of mining for natural resources and energy by resorting to reused and recycled products, and locally-available pure sand. Since the objects are made locally, the carbon emissions are mitigated by conforming to the principles of the circular economy. Moreover, the simplified manufacturing process doesn’t require technical expertise or special mechanical equipment, minimising workmanship and labour costs while optimising logistics and fabrication time—rendering objects suitable for mass production.
A sculptural amalgam of past and present, art and functionality
AlUla embodies the complex story of human settlement and civilization through art and design—a cradle of creativity that preserves the art and culture of those who came before us, reminding us that history is a continuum. Kapa’s practice, focusing on sustainable design as well as the cultural importance of architecture and design, has been largely targeted to spread awareness towards the built environment in the Middle East, while promoting sustainability through innovation. AlUla’s teeming creative energy and Kapa’s design philosophy interweave to birth silhouettes that straddle sculptural art and functional design, becoming emblems of rich history and its enveloping milieu—a souvenir of magnificence.