Renowned architectural firm Foster + Partners has announced a new competition win for a project in one of the world’s most sacred grounds, Makkah. Located close to Grand Mosque and Holy Kaaba, the main area of interest to visitors, the mixed-use complex will consist of a luxury hotel and serviced apartments. The Saudi Arabian city is Islam’s holiest site and draws millions of pilgrims each year to worship during the hajj. The competition was held to provide additional accommodation for visitors to the city, which has a steady population of about two million, since their numbers swell dramatically at different points over the year.
Foster + Partner’s winning design is a testament to the firm’s considered take on the sacred site. Lauded for past projects in sensitive locations such as the Reichstag dome and for iconic, skyline-defining buildings such as the Gherkin in London, the architects have consistently delivered contextually appropriate and socially relevant work that endures over time. No doubt this was a factor in them being chosen as the competition winners.
The arrangement of buildings in their design takes the form of a collection of vertiginous volumes that retreat from the main square in front. The highest towers are at the back of the site and get lower as they approach plaza below, stacking in a series of terraces designed to replicate the undulations of the surrounding landscape, thereby creating a new urban topography in the center of the city.
The complex is positioned on the axis between the new Haramain High-speed Rail Station and the Grand Mosque and will itself become an important part in the pilgrim’s journey towards the Holy Kaaba. New landscaping in the form of a large pedestrian ramp will heighten the visitor’s experience of the route to the mosque, which itself is a major highlight of the pilgrimage. Generous spaces with natural lighting that floods in through cascading vertical elements from above will lend the new collection of buildings a grandeur appropriate to its divine location. The complex as a whole takes its cues from traditional Arabian architecture, which is at once typical of the region and elegant in its execution, an ideal aesthetic for a new hotel in such an important place.
The spaces have been designed from an interior perspective, with particular focus applied to areas of worship and devout thought. All of the rooms are organized to have direct views towards the Holy Kaaba, putting importance on the connection to the site while you are inside the hotel or residence. Head of Studio and Senior Executive Partner Luke Fox says, “Our endeavor has been to make the experience special and appropriate to its unique location. The design follows a philosophy of ‘luxury with humility’ with an understated elegance throughout the development,” and, “Our design sets out to create an innovative building form that will be respectful to the scale and importance of the Grand Mosque.” Given the scale and ambition of the project, it is likely to be some years before it is completed. The project is rumored to be called the Jabal Omar Development after its Saudi Arabian developers of the same name. Check back with Dornob in the future for more updates on this project!