If you have not travelled to Mecca, Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj in the past few years, you may be in for surprises. Big surprises. One of the world’s tallest buildings is nearing completion just towards the south of the haram, the Grand Mosque where the Kaaba is located. When I travelled there in 2006-7, just buying a Starbucks coffee across the street was enough culture shock (or non-shock) for me. Looking a picture of the area one year later, I notice that the hotel I stayed in (along with, oh, a few square miles) has been razed to the ground.
What for? Well, there has been plenty of speculation about it – along with some confirmation that people of the likes of Zaha Hadid and Sir Norman Foster were involved in a massive redevelopment. Now, courtesy of some who leaked a video montage of plans by the multinational construction firm Atkins, we see what the fuss is all about – a massive expansion of the Grand Mosque to include up to 3 million worshippers. Given the crowds, such an expansion appears necessary, though at what cost? The leaked plans show a practical way of allowing millions of worshippers to pray in relative comfort, but would necessitate the destruction of much of the Ottoman-era mosque to accommodate the radial structure.
In its final form, the radial array would form a complete circle – possibly necessitating the destruction of the aforementioned supertall building which – of course – has not been completed yet. Only in Saudi Arabia.