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Redesigning Mecca?
December 4, 2008 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid have been lined up to take on one of the most high-profile projects on earth – the redevelopment of Mecca

"According to sources, the scheme for Islam's holiest city could create a huge new structure around the central Haram mosque that will eventually be capable of holding three million people, making it the 'highest occupancy' building in the world."
posted by puckish (52 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Terrific find.

I assume the depression in oil prices will slow construction. But when it's finished, it will be an impressive monument to the power of 21st century Islam.

Hugh Hewitt's testicles will retract just to think of it.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:23 PM on December 4, 2008


Something like this has been floated around just about every year for the past ten years. They are building like crazy there, but it hasn't really coalesced around a central plan. Something does need to be done, and I hope it isn't overly glitzy nor will require excessive upkeep.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:32 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


...the central Haram mosque that will eventually be capable of holding three million people, making it the 'highest occupancy' building in the world.

I had no idea 'Haram' has two meanings which are VERY different from one another.
posted by gman at 6:32 PM on December 4, 2008


Foster + Partners have done some massive (and cool-looking) airports, so this seems like a sensible choice, if you're interested in moving large numbers of people through large volume spaces.
posted by carter at 6:33 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had no idea 'Haram' has two meanings which are VERY different from one another.

Actually two separate but related Arabic words. Haram: protected space (in fact most of Mecca is considered Haram). Haraam (note extended ah sound in second syllable) is actually the "forbidden" that you read about. Semitic root words are fun!
posted by Burhanistan at 6:37 PM on December 4, 2008 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I only knew about the latter, but I know it well.
posted by gman at 6:41 PM on December 4, 2008


A city forbidden to non-Muslims built by a Brit who designed lots of western icons? Probably just a pragmatic decision, but still mildly ironic.
posted by uncle harold at 6:46 PM on December 4, 2008


The top-secret plans are being backed by King Abdullah ben Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia who has asked a hand-picked collection of starchitects to 'establish a new architectural vision' for the 356,800m2 mosque complex.

Clearly code for Frank Gehry. This will be interesting.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:48 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Will it have a dog park?
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:17 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't know how old the main external structure is, but it seems kind of strange up to re-do it. I understand only the cube in the middle is important or supposed to be sacred, but still. The Saudis are also tearing up lots of the city itself and building new areas. Supposedly they are opposed to historical preservation because it could cause older buildings to become 'sacred' and this would lead to polytheism, or something like that.

But it's hard to imagine the Catholic church tearing down St. Peters basilica, or the Vatican just because they wanted bigger ones.

Also, didn't the Bin Laden group build or renovate the external structure earlier in the 20th century?
posted by delmoi at 7:17 PM on December 4, 2008


Clearly code for Frank Gehry. This will be interesting.

If he puts Mickey ears on the Grand Mosque, there's going to be trouble.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:30 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Will it have a dog park?

Sorry, I think Muhammad was a cat person.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 7:37 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


And a couple years ago, Rem Koolhaas's OMA submitted a design for a new Jeddah Airport meant to accommodate Hajj traffic. Anybody know if it's actually being built?
posted by neroli at 7:39 PM on December 4, 2008


Also, didn't the Bin Laden group build or renovate the external structure earlier in the 20th century?
[Mohamed] Bin Laden built a lot of roads and palaces, but he also got the contract to renovate the al-Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque in Mecca: this was part of the king’s attempt to spread some of the oil wealth to the Hijaz, a region that had been distrustful of ‘foreign’ rule ever since Ibn Saud and his holy warriors laid siege to it in the 1920s. The construction industry was soon the third largest employer in the country, after the government and Aramco, and many Saudi builders profited, with bin Laden topping the list.
posted by lukemeister at 7:47 PM on December 4, 2008


Unless Foster has converted, it'll be a capital offense for him to visit the site.
posted by Class Goat at 7:49 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Will it have a dog park?

One where locals can come kick dogs?
posted by gman at 8:01 PM on December 4, 2008


They are building like crazy there, but it hasn't really coalesced around a central plan.

And some of what they're building is awful. Like you have no idea what Mecca looks like now. And these aren't just renders, this thing is about half done.
posted by smackfu at 8:02 PM on December 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't care who does the design work, I hope they follow through and update some of the sites. They just can't accommodate the crowds they draw these days, and to hear about people being trampled while they are on a pilgrimage is very sad.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:02 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Unless Foster has converted, it'll be a capital offense for him to visit the site.

The Saudis brought three French officers in during the siege of the Grand Mosque in 1979, so I'd think they could make arrangements for Foster.
posted by lukemeister at 8:12 PM on December 4, 2008


OK. Here in Christendom, we're only vaguely aware that Christians who pray at Mass are different than the Christians who pray at meeting-houses are different from the Christians who pray at mega-churches.

There were only two schisms that mattered here in the USA - the one Henry VIII precipitated, and the one Martin Luther precipitated.

We're not too clear on why there's a Syrian Catholic and a Syrian Orthodox church, and how they differ from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and what's all this Nestorian and Coptic and Gnostic stuff about, anyway?

In Islam, the schisms came earlier, bit deeper, and lasted longer. Now, imagine, if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir were forced to be held at the Vatican, while the Pope was a Southern Baptist, and you have the edges of the beginning of the problem.

So, they really don't care if Foster is of the Faithful or not, if he can come up with a way for the Faithful not to trample each other to death every year, the rabid right-winger Wahaabists running the show in Saudi Arabia will pay him a mint to make it so.

Interfaith politics in Islam is just as fascinating as anything in post-reformation Europe, and it's disappointing most commentators don't even bother trying to understand it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:15 PM on December 4, 2008 [7 favorites]


They just can't accommodate the crowds they draw these days, and to hear about people being trampled while they are on a pilgrimage is very sad.

There hasn't been any trampling for the past few years since they redesigned the Jamrat area (where hajis converge to stone the pillar that represents Satan), installing a huge three level bridge. I was there last year when it was just being finished, and it was probably the strangest place I've ever been. Picture a love child of a major highway interchange and a football stadium (it wasn't completed so it had the weird video game construction look to it) combined with a really eerie feeling. The beauty though, was that people moved well through it, and traffic was managed properly. There are other chokepoints around Mecca, but that was the worst one. Frankly, the problem is people from Asian countries who don't know what a queue is and otherwise don't know how to think systematically about moving around. Thankfully, you can design around that problem
posted by Burhanistan at 8:19 PM on December 4, 2008


I would love if the site was upgraded or adapted so the thousands of worshipers can do their thing without, you know, dying in a mad crush.

I would not like it not to be ugly or stupid.

Too much to ask?
posted by The Whelk at 8:22 PM on December 4, 2008


Incidents during the Hajj.
posted by gman at 8:22 PM on December 4, 2008


smackfu: My goodness. It's like the Big Ben crossed with ... I don't know. Something.
posted by Xere at 8:23 PM on December 4, 2008


smackfu: aack! I Google Earth'd it. I couldn't believe it, but it appears true.

Didn't Paris ban tall buildings near the Eiffel Tower? How'd you like to travel half-way across the globe on a holy pilgrimage, be at the spot, walking around the holiest site, and as you raise your eyes to heaven, you see the time is now 4:20? Nothing like a clock to bring you closer to God/Allah.
posted by dragonsi55 at 8:29 PM on December 4, 2008


And for a visual, This bridged, one way pedestrian area is what replaced this chaotic scene.

Here's a pretty good description of the work done. Note that no tramplings have occurred since it was erected.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:31 PM on December 4, 2008


In related news, there are a KFC and Pizza Hut near the Great Pyramid of Giza.
posted by lukemeister at 8:35 PM on December 4, 2008


It should also be noted that the Jamrat pillar is some distance away from the Masjid al Harem in Mecca (where there has not been any trampling).
posted by Burhanistan at 8:35 PM on December 4, 2008


And some of what they're building is awful. Like you have no idea what Mecca looks like now. And these aren't just renders, this thing is about half done.

What dickweeds -- they went through the trouble to set the clock tower to 10:10?? I almost thought it was real until I saw that. This 10:10 shit has to stop. The next designer I see that puts 10:10 in their graphics I'm going to print the picture on A2 paper and shove it up their ass.
posted by crapmatic at 8:41 PM on December 4, 2008


obviously it's part of the religion, but man, they could make the building so much smaller if people didn't all have to pilgrimage at the same time.
posted by snofoam at 9:07 PM on December 4, 2008


snofoam, people have made the Hajj in the lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah since long before the advent of Islam.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:16 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Save the Hijaz

The sooner the oil runs out, the better. There's not enough time in the day to list out all the holy, historic places destroyed, ruined or cheapened by the House of Saud. I hope this project doesn't add to the list.
posted by BinGregory at 9:36 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Photoblog from a Western woman based in Medina. Amazing commentary from a believer's perspective with photos of places you wouldn't otherwise see.
posted by BinGregory at 9:41 PM on December 4, 2008 [5 favorites]


BinGregory: It's about time Auntie Noor got her props around this dump! That blog is about the only thing that keeps the internet online.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:44 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Didn't the Sauds seal the Tomb of Eve in concrete to stop people from going there?
posted by 1adam12 at 9:47 PM on December 4, 2008


Didn't the Sauds seal the Tomb of Eve in concrete to stop people from going there?

(apologies for threadjacking) You can still visit the purported site of Eve (Hawaa) in Jeddah, but visiting hours are very restricted. It also has received the same treatment as all other sacred burial sites in the Magic Kindgom, ie. razed with a bulldozer and left as an empty sandlot.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:52 PM on December 4, 2008


A brief history of Wahhabi desecrations in the Hijaz.
posted by BinGregory at 10:02 PM on December 4, 2008


In the same vein as lukemeister, there's actually a Burger King in the ground floor of the building to the right of the clock-tower building, right across from the Masjid al-Haram.

Yes, there is a Burger King across from the holiest site in Islam. A Hilton, too.
posted by malapropist at 10:09 PM on December 4, 2008


The disgust only somewhat mitigated by it being a halal Burger King...
posted by BinGregory at 10:22 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Unless Foster has converted, it'll be a capital offense for him to visit the site.

My dad, a Roman Catholic telecommunications engineer, was hired to install some phone systems in Mecca many years ago. He was given a paper authorizing him to enter the holy city and carry a closely monitored supply of ethanol (for splicing wires). He was warned in no uncertain terms to always carry the paper, but though he received many funny looks no one ever challenged him. Despite the crucifix he wore outside of his shirt...
posted by Soliloquy at 10:49 PM on December 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


The KFC and other international food chains in question in Mecca are indeed just across the street from the Masjid al Harem, but they are all inside indoor malls on the ground level of various hotels. There is very limited signage outside around the Masjid so you don't emerge from circumnabulating the Ka'aba to glaring neon. I stayed in that Hilton, by the way. It is a massive five tower complex atop a 4 story indoor mall, but it is dwarved next to the new tower, and possibly slated for demolition.

Also, non-Muslims travel to Mecca and Medina regularly for business/consulting. However, they rarely are permitted access to the two holy mosques. It is not a "capital offense" as mentioned above by any measure. They won't kill you just for being there, for goodness sake, just deport you if you don't have permission.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:06 AM on December 5, 2008


liveaction webcam of the kaaba. don't you wish you could go? heck, some of you probably can.

burhanistan, how does one get permission to enter? i can think of few things more exciting than getting to view the mosques up close and personal. except maybe kissing pop stars.
posted by artof.mulata at 9:15 AM on December 5, 2008


artof.mulata, An entry visa for the haram areas is not something that just anyone can get who isn't a Muslim. It usually is a very high level clearance type thing in conjunction with projects like this one mentioned in the post here, if I'm not mistaken. There have been a few AskMetafilter posts about getting into the Haramain (two holy Mosques) as a non-Muslim. I'm kind of split down the middle about that, but since I've found that there really is a special kind of energy/atmosphere in those places (I'm not one prone to religious fervor so I was very skeptical about my experiences there just to be sure it wasn't imagination), even with all the bling bling Saudi influence, that I wouldn't want to say no to someone who really wanted to visit out of respect, Muslim or otherwise.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:21 AM on December 5, 2008


a secular friend of mine was very into Islamic art and scholarship (and had a raging girl-on for Richard Burton) and went to Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey to study the art and visit important sites. In order to do this, she taught herself Arabic and prayer rituals and just ..went in.

Granted I feel a little torn about this. On one hand she wasn't *really* praying nor was she a convert, but she did everything in good faith (no pun intended) and with a huge level of respect. So ...yah.
posted by The Whelk at 10:21 AM on December 5, 2008


The Whelk: just went in KSA? One has to get a special Hajj/Umrah visa via a licensed tour guide in order to visit the Haramain in KSA. But one doesn't even need to be a Muslim to go in any other masjid in the world.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:26 AM on December 5, 2008


Granted I don't want the Florence Effect, where holy buildings are flooded with tourists in shorts and cameras, but it's often their major means of income and to be fair, so many of them really aren't "Living" churches anymore, and why deny some of the greatest works of art on Earth to people? But still, it can be a little sad to see a huge Cathedral turned into a tourist carnival.

Dear Zues, I'm an atheist and I've put way too much thought into this
posted by The Whelk at 10:28 AM on December 5, 2008


I think she specifically wanted to be in during services, but I can't be sure. I know she was in a lot of rural/out of the way places where a young American girl would stick out and maybe denied access to places?
posted by The Whelk at 10:30 AM on December 5, 2008


Ah, well speaking from experience as an interested non-Muslim in all things Islamic (it took me awhile to take the plunge and make myself accountable for the obligations of Islam, ie, taking the shahada), I can say that in most cases someone like that will be welcomed even if they aren't a Muslim. Muslims tend to regard non-Muslims who are sincerely curious about Islam as particularly special people and usually afford them extra deference and assistance.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:36 AM on December 5, 2008


In relation to that, there's a bit in A Passage to India where the Muslim Dr. Aziz is surprised in a ruin of a mosque by the Englishwoman Mrs. Moore. At first he is greatly alarmed, telling her "It is not allowed!" but she reassures him, indignantly, that she has taken off her shoes, indicating awareness of customs. He is still uncertain, torn between his religion and his deference to the British, when she disarms him with the sincere observation, "God is present here." It begins a friendship that defines the story.
posted by dhartung at 4:43 PM on December 5, 2008


A Passage to India is one of her favorite books. Along with the Richard Burton fetish, it explains how she was held captive by bandits at the Eastern border of Turkey and why she now doesn't travel as much.
posted by The Whelk at 6:26 PM on December 5, 2008


They should put in a DJ booth.
posted by deusdiabolus at 2:53 AM on December 6, 2008


But anyways, this is how it is projected to look when everything is finished.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:08 PM on December 6, 2008


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