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June 24th, 2007
The Sand Castle
Video: Full Episode

His Highness Sheikh Saud of Ras al-Khaimah has a grandiose dream — a brand new capital in the middle of his desert kingdom. Once an outpost for pirates and the pearl trade, the United Arab Emirates is reinventing itself on a global scale, and Ras al-Khaimah, the northern emirate, wants a piece of the future. Following in the footsteps of its sister-state Dubai, this sleepy oasis plans to build itself into significance by commissioning world-renowned architects to invent a city on the sand dunes. On a tight budget, no less for Ras al-Khaimah has hardly any oil. The Sand Castle follows the roller-coaster ride as the Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta makes its bid to design the capital’s master plan. The Sheikh’s most trusted man sends Snøhetta’s architects back to the drawing table repeatedly to elaborate on their minimalist designs. The architects labor frantically to meet the Sheikh’s entrepreneurial ambitions, only to lose the contest to the celebrated Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Instead the Sheikh commissions the Scandinavian firm to draft the blueprint for Ras al-Khaimah’s signature convention center. The film takes viewers into the depths of the royal headquarters, and a fascinating encounter between Eastern and Western minds — the Emiratis’ spectacular fantasy and the architects’ struggle to render their demanding Arab client’s mirage.

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