x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Saudi vision for MTE Studios, the Dubailand creator

The creative team behind Dubailand is going cultural with a museum development in Saudi Arabia.

The company behind the creative designs for Dubailand has turned its attention to museum development in Saudi Arabia, as the region switches to a stronger focus on cultural attractions.

"There is a greater interest in the region in museums and experience centres," said Ludo Verheyen, the chief executive of MTE Studios, which has offices in Dubai and Cape Town.

"That we see now in the last two years or three years. Abu Dhabi is spending a lot of attention on it in terms of the cultural aspect. In the region you have Qatar, and in Saudi Arabia suddenly we have all the universities wanting their own museums."

MTE Studios has just opened a science museum in the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. Mr Verheyen said the development of heritage centres, experience centres and museums was accelerating in Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular.

"That culture has started to develop and it has to do that as the region recognises that it's important to invest for the future in a knowledge-based society rather than a society which creates its wealth through oil. Investing in a knowledge-based society means education, universities, and besides that you have the informal learning part of it, through science centres, museums. That is a trend."

According to a report by Ventures Middle East (VME) , a business advisory service based in the UAE, the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities has signed contracts worth 334 million Saudi riyals (Dh327.2m) to develop the country's tourism industry, including construction that is under way of five regional museums.

"Other projects implemented in 2010 include the renovation of culturally significant sites including Tabuk Fort, built by the Turks in 1655 on the site of a 10th-century fortress, and the site of the Abar Hima ancient rock inscriptions in the southern region of Najran," according to VME.

"2011 spells a positive beginning for all the countries in the GCC hoping for a sustainable and developing economy led by prudential investments made in profitable and optimal sectors," VME said.

Mr Verheyen said MTE Studios also designed and came up with the concept for the theme of Dubai's Ibn Battuta, which is based on the travels of the eponymous 14th-century Arab explorer, as well as creating a Dh18m (US$4.9m) Islamic science exhibition within the shopping centre.

A few years ago, the company was asked to produce a concept and design 22 "worlds" within an area in Dubai's desert larger than the city itself. That project was the Dubailand entertainment and tourism development, to be spread over 27,870 hecatres and to cost an estimated Dh235 billion. Mostly, the economic environment forced developers to either put these projects on hold or scrap them entirely.

Prior to such developments, the company focused on producing hundreds of hand-drawn and computer-generated images for Dubailand as it came up with creative ideas to impress prospective investors, including the design for the Bawadi project as part of the development.

MTE Studios created a design for a strip that had "local significance and was designed for the region". This included a gateway to the strip that consisted of 140-metre-high man-made illuminated mountains.

Bawadi was billed to have "the largest cluster of hotels in the world", along with amusement centres, shopping malls, theatres and restaurants. According to the master plan, the 10km boulevard would have 51 hotels and more than 60,000 rooms.