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Sharaan by Jean Nouvel resort

In a few words

EOLIOS’ in-depth study has enabled us to precisely determine the microclimates of a naturally ventilated troglodyte hotel in the Saudi Arabian desert.


Sharraan by Jean Nouvel resort




Jean Nouvel - Terell Group


Saudi Arabia



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Project background

SHARAAN is a project designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. This ambitious project aims to build a hotel on a rocky mountain in the Al-Ula desert in Saudi Arabia. The major challenge is to preserve the landscape of the Sharaan nature reserve while incorporating a hotel complex with modern architectural concepts.

SHARAAN project images

It was within the framework of this exceptional project, led by the Jean Nouvel and Terrel studios, that EOLIOS was able to complete a global study of the site in order to precisely characterize resort aeraulics (site microclimates, internal air displacement, thermosiphon effects…) to define a single, global strategy for natural ventilation with the aim of harnessing the energy of the mountains.

The challenge of a cave dwelling

Troglodyte dwellings are dwellings either below ground or dug into the rock on a mountainside. This is the idea that Jean Nouvel used for his palace in the desert. This type of home boasts excellent thermal insulation thanks to the surrounding rock. In this way, temperatures remain stable: warmth is preserved in winter and coolness in summer. What’s more, these dwellings are solidly built in rock.

Example of cave dwellings

Desert microclimates

The climate in the project area is dry, with rainfall not exceeding a hundred millimetres. The desert is very hot in summer and very cold at night in the cold season(night frost). The desert canyons and ravines in our study often offer cooler, wetter microclimates due to their ability to retain moisture and provide shade. This can lead to denser vegetation and more diverse ecosystems.

Arabie Saoudite - Désert
Grand canyon in the United States

Deserts are home to a multitude of highly specific microclimates, which can vary significantly even over short distances. As a result, certain species of plants and animals have managed to adapt and thrive by exploiting these particular microclimates despite the harsh desert conditions. These climate variations create cooling potentials associated with troglodyte architecture and different micro-climates. It is then possible to use micro-climates to enable effective bioclimatic control in complex environments such as deserts.

Micro-climate studies

Climate studies are needed to determine general trends on the project site. Heliodons were used to determine thesolar exposure of the site, and wind speeds were recorded at the nearest weather station.

Sun exposure

In the project area, thermal variations of surfaces relative tosolar irradiation can lead to local microclimates.

Sun exposure

As a first approach, in the simulation we consider the base of the canyons as not very sunny, in order to take advantage of microclimate effects. A more detailed analysis should enable us to refine these sectors more precisely.

Wind characterization

This unique project, at one with the mountain’s elements, is inspired by and uses the wind at its heart. Jean Nouvel himself says it best. The wind has a real impact on the mountains of this desert. Patterns can be seen in the rock due to its passage.

Effect of wind on rock

The annual wind rose enables us to determine the project’s prevailing winds and their maximum amplitude, and to carry out studies in the most unfavorable cases. Our studies have enabled us to take precise account of the local effects of the mountain inducing air movements at the heart of the hotel complex.

On-site CFD simulation

The CFD simulation was carried out using a complete model of the hotel and the surrounding environment. This model is based on the geometry of the site and the mountains. It is based on the des model produced by the Jean Nouvel workshops. The resort’s interior ducts are also modeled to allow precise study of natural ventilation.

The challenge of the project is to excavate the rock and create spaces with a high level of comfort. The two major problems in this desert, apart from digging into a mountain, are the very high ambient temperatures and the wind (and its gusts). CFD can be used to simulate pressures, air movements and temperatures at any point on the site.

  • Temperature study

Temperatures should remain pleasant and much lower than the extreme outside temperatures of deserts.

  • Indoor and outdoor wind studies

Inside the palace, the simulations provide wind current lines outside the site, as well as general air displacement trends.

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