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Makkah Royal Clock Tower
Mecca, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, completed 2012
601 m/ 1,972 ft/ 120 floors
Developer: Saudi Bin Laden Group
Architect of the hotel: Dar Al-Handasah (Shair and Partners)
Architect and Structural Engineer of the Clock Tower: SL Rasch
G.F.A: 5.0 million sq ft
Great height is generally motivated by a desire for attention, but the building that is currently the third tallest on the planet is little known outside the Muslim world. As part of the King Abdullah Al Saud Endowment for the expansion of the Two Holy Mosques, the Makkah Clock Tower is the centerpiece of the Abraj Al Bait Complex of seven luxury hotels, including the Fairmont Hotel, housed within the tower that rises 601 meters to the tip of the crescent spire, and overlooks the Holy Mosque for Muslims performing Umrah and Hajj.
The Mecca Clock Tower, 2013
Film above is 14 minutes of excerpts from a documentary produced by SL Rasch. Directed by Taner Karaarslan, Bensalem Bouabdallah. Produced by Achmed Rasch
The Makkah Clock Tower was a separate commission from the high-rise hotel below. The engineers at the German firm SL Rasch, who had earlier worked on other aspects of accommodating an ever-increasing number of pilgrims to Makkah, were asked to create the world’s largest clock atop the building already under construction. Their work began 347 meters above the ground in a structure of steel weighing 12,000 tons. In addition to the clock’s precision mechanisms, inside the spire are also an astrological observatory, exhibition space, and observation deck. The golden crescent that crowns the entire structure contains a prayer room for the royal family and dignitaries. It is the highest occupied man-made space in the world.
The element of time is of great significance to Muslims. Four of the five pillars of the Islamic faith are regulated by time – prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and the Hajj. The first pillar is the proclamation of faith, which is displayed on the side panels of the tower. The gigantic height and immense size of the Makkah Clock Tower allows it to be easily visible from anywhere in Makkah, as well as from the approach roads to the Holy City.
The clock is the host of Makkah Time, an independent time signal spread worldwide unifying all Muslims. It introduces a second time standard besides Greenwich Mean Time so that the faithful can be aware of such markers as the rising sun in Makkah, when Ramadan starts, when fasting can be broken after sunset or when the five daily prayers are to be performed towards Makkah.
PILGRIMS TO THE HOLY MOSQUE AND KAABA
Photograph of pilgrims circling the Kaaba at night. Courtesy of SL Rasch
The Al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque in Makkah is built around the Kaaba, the cuboid shrine, considered the House of God, towards which all Muslims face for their prayers. During the Umrah, the pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba seven times, in a form of worship known as the Tawaf. The Hajj is a five-day long pilgrimage that all able Muslims are obligated to perform at least once in their lifetime, with the Masjid al-Haram as the starting point.
The engineers from SL Rasch have been involved with several projects designed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of pilgrims during the Hajj, which now number nearly three million annually.
THE CLOCK TOWER
Left: photo detailing the upper section of the clock tower.
Right: Model of the observatory and research center. Courtesy of SL Rasch
The clock housing is designed in the Islamic style, with a visitors’ platform below each of the clock faces. It culminates in a large crescent, made from glass and carbon fiber; decorated with 98 million mosaic pieces with 24-karat gold leaf and 2 million LEDs that illuminate the outer façade. The crescent, known as the Hilal, is the symbol of the Prophet and the acme of the Clock Tower. It houses the world’s highest prayer room at 592 meters.
The clock faces measure up to 43 meters and are the largest in the world. Each is driven by its own mechanism that supports both clock hands, which extend to 23 and 17 meters and weigh 12 tons, combined. The call to prayer resonates from the top of the clock through the most powerful sound system of its kind, and during the call to prayer 21,000 green and white lights illuminate the clock, thereby increasing its visibility in all areas of Makkah.