In 2011, His Majesty King Abdulaziz initiated the fourth phase of the Saudi expansion of the Masjid-Al-Haram. Six years since then, and the grand project is slowly materializing into the vision of the Makah of the future.
The developmental plan is destined to be completed by 2020. Many foreign companies have participated in the reconstruction project of the Mosque making it truly a global venture. The most prominent companies of the project are Atkins Construction Company, BinLaden Group, Al-Shoula Group, Al-Rajhi Alliance and the Spanish Isolux Corsan construction company. It is estimated that the extension and reconstruction project will cost about $26.6 billion and a staggering $35.5 billion has been given to acquire the land to expand the Mosque. It has been expected that with the completion of this phase of Saudi reconstruction the Mosque would cost a total of $100 billion.
The Harmain High-Speed Rail project
This project also termed as the Makah-Medina high-speed railway is a 453-kilometre long high-speed inter-city rail transport system under construction that connects the holy cities of Makah and Medina. The entire project is planned to be inaugurated in March 2018. The rail is designed such that it can provide comfort and safety to Pilgrims moving between the cities for Ziyarat at an explosive speed of 300 kilometres per hour. Currently, it takes about six and a half hours for a traveller to move between the two holy cities but with the completion of the railway line in 2018, the time will shrink to only two hours.
This railway line is used to relieve the traffic congestion the two cities develop in the times of the Hajj. It is designed to carry three million passengers a year and will have three Stations in between; at King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh, at King Abdulaziz International Airport and at Jeddah Downtown.
King Abdul-Aziz International Airport
The King Abdul Aziz International Airport is being given a multi-billion dollar make over. Due to the rising number of Hajj pilgrims and a flourishing religious tourism, the King Abdul Aziz International requires increasing its capacity from being able to service and transporting 12 million passengers a year to 80 million passengers by the year 2035. The mega project is divided into three phases, the first of which is to be complete by 2018. The first phase increases the capacity of the airport to 20 million passengers a year. The project is designed by the architectural giant Atkins, and upon completion, the airport will have 46 gates, an automated People Mover, an in-house luxury hotel, Recuse, firefighting and Emergency Response centre, an interconnection with the Harmain High-Speed Railway line, a grand mosque and a flight data collection centre. A special 3.75-kilometre branch will connect the Airport with the High-speed rail line.
The Haram of the future
The new proposed designs aim to accommodate 1.6 million worshippers in the Grand Mosque of Makkah. The expansion of the building includes the construction of a ring road, tunnels and cascading facade that would house thousands of pilgrims at a time. The Extension project creates 21,000 places for ablution and toilets, 24 elevators for the disabled, 680 escalators and six absolutely new floors for praying. Furthermore, a $2.6 billion metro line is also being laid for inter-city transportation.
Due to the phenomenal importance of the Mosque and the historic significance of the current architecture and building of the Masjid-e-Haram, it is proving to make planning decisions difficult. The design proposes to construct Islamic archways that cascade towards the Ka’abah, forming into a ‘petal’ to the ‘Ka’abah flower’ as seen from above. This petal then can be replicated to complete the circle around the Ka’abah, but for now, only the Northern side of the Ka’abah is being constructed that way. The design is such that the floors are slightly curving upwards and outwards. As one moves away from the Ka’abah, even the pilgrim standing in the last lines can see an unobstructed view of the Ka’abah, while praying. The plan includes a revamped air conditioning system and refurbishing the gallery between the Safa and Marwa into the structure.
There are a few limitations to this design. While the structures needed to be built can be constructed outside the current structure of the Haram Mosque; however, the unobstructed view for the pilgrims from the ‘petal structures’ cannot be guaranteed without, dismantling the Ottoman era Turkish arcade that has historical and emotional significance.