Makkah Royal Clock Tower is the tallest structure among the seven skyscrapers of the Abraj Al-Bait, a complex owned by the Government of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Makkah Royal Clock Tower is the third tallest building with the largest clock face in the world at the apex of the towering skyscraper. The architectural style of the building is Postmodernist New Classical, akin to a lot of the architecture in the urban fabric of the fast-growing capitalist country.
The construction of the Abraj Al-Bait complex has been highly controversial due to the demolition of the Ajyad Fortress and the removal of the mountain atop which it sat, which is where the complex stands now.
The complex itself is a hotel and residential structure, just a couple of hundred metres from the Holy Mosque of Mecca. The 6-tonne crescent moon at the top of the towering building of the Makkah Royal Clock Tower is stark against the sky and can be seen from the piazza below. The other smaller structures to the sides of the Clock Tower also function as hotels and two of the other towers have helipad facilities as well.
The Makkah Royal Clock Tower stands 1,972 feet (601 metres) tall with 120 floors in the superstructure and 3 floors below ground. The skyscraper was designed by the firm RL Rasch GmbH headed by Mahmoud Bodo Rasch. The construction began in 2004 and was completed in 2012 by the construction firm Saudi Binladin Group. The tower contains numerous hotel rooms, a five-storey high shopping mall, Islamic Museum and prayer rooms, topped off by a golden crescent. The symmetrical complex towers above the piazza and the Kaaba, with the clock depicting the time for prayers across the land.
The crescent at the apex of the Makkah Royal Clock Tower is 75 feet (23 metres) high. The colossal piece is 21 metres in diameter and is a monocoque structure, that is, loads of the piece are supported by the structural skin. The crescent encompasses a four-storey high column-free living space with a prayer room, resting area, kitchen and bathroom, and a few service floors.
Right below the crescent is a prayer room that can be accessed from the topmost floor of the building only via an 18-metre high spiral staircase or the adjunct chairlift. The chairlift can reach the prayer room after winding it 7 times.
The clock faces on all four sides of the Makkah Royal Clock Tower are 43 metres in diameter. At night, the clock is illuminated by 2 million white and green LEDs which denotes the time for the prayers round the clock. The colossal clock is visible from 17 kilometres away. The 2 million LED lights on the faces of the clocks are operated from a hollow space behind the clock area.
The space behind the self-supporting clock structure in the Makkah Royal Clock Tower is a four-storey high area that contains a cosmology centre and exhibition rooms depicting the development and construction of the clock tower along with the history of Islamic time measurement.
The dressing of the facades with pointed arches and Islamic ornamentation is encrusted with gold mosaic tiles. The trellis screens that are designed are modelled after the mashrabiya panels traditionally consisting of latticework, except here they do not serve the purpose of ventilation but only exist for vanity says a critical article about the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in the Guardian.
The spire above the clock, called the Jewel, is eight storeys high and houses the scientific centre and Lunar observatory with a small exhibition. It also contains an atomic clock that controls the clock faces. The base of the spire contains an observation deck at 1,558 feet (475 metres) and a prayer hall at 1,570 feet (480 metres). The top half of the spire contains technical services. The four minarets made of pillars topped off with domes on all four corners have loudspeakers that broadcast prayer calls up to a 7 km radius.
The bottom five storeys of the Makkah Royal Clock Tower are shopping malls. The rest of the building below the clock area houses numerous luxury hotels. The entire complex of Abraj Al-Bait contains a total of 858 suites run by several major international star hotel franchises, while the Makkah Royal Clock Tower houses 864 of those.
Though the government-owned complex was initially built to cater to the growing tourist population of Mecca, a larger proportion of the buildings remains unoccupied due to the utterly expensive hotels and residences. The capitalist country’s policy of building towering structures by demolishing holy places and mountains in the vicinity only for it to be detrimental to the domestic populace has gained a lot of backlashes.
Materials and Construction
The crescent at the top of the Makkah Royal Clock Tower is made of carbon fibre with 1,050 square metres of mosaic gold-encrusted on it. The monocoque piece was assembled from five parts which were lifted above the spire from a height of 580 to 601 metres.
The firm SL Rasch which designed the Makkah Royal Clock Tower consulted with a boatbuilding company to figure out the assembly of the clock since the structure was to be made of carbon fibre and high-strength glass, owing to high wind loads and the weight of the structure itself. The enormous clock is composed of 600 glass fibre reinforced panels with 98 million pieces of glass mosaic tiles in 6 different colours covering an area of 46,000 square metres.
The clock is 43 metres in diameter and is 450 metres above ground with the hands which are around 22 metres long. The entire clock is a self-supporting structure with no load-bearing interiors. Given the wind loads and the enormous weight of the clock components, the functioning of the clock was vital.
The Makkah Royal Clock Tower is a concrete structure supported by a steel framework that extends up to the top of the structure. The load-bearing base of the structure consists of four V-shaped support columns. Above the clock area, the columns taper and merge with the conical steel beams above the clock.
Around 233 solar panels have been installed on the Jewel with blue and purple hues which were custom-cut to form the curved part of the spire. The solar panels contain 11,000 individual photovoltaic cells and are used to power the four clock units.
Since glass mosaic tiles constitute a major portion of the facade of the Makkah Royal Clock Tower, it was essential to choose materials that were less affected by the huge diurnal temperature gaps of up to 70-degree Celsius. Hence custom-made glass mosaic tiles were used since they reflect UV rays.
Since Mecca is a highly keraunic region, it was key to install lightning protection measures in the Makkah Royal Clock Tower. There are around 800 fixed lightning conductors and this system protects the building from frequent lightning strikes.
Despite the critical views on the construction of the Abraj Al-Bait complex, being an imposing structure amid the dense narrow streets laden with courtyards of the surrounding urban fabric, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower stands tall at the heart of the Holy Mecca right beside the Kaaba. Despite it symbolising the existing and growing economic gap within the State, the Islamic symbolism evident on the facade proclaims humility.
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