Modern Vernacular: Foster + Partners’ “Cascading Towers” Will Stand in Harmony With the Grand Mosque in Mecca

The mixed-used structure will house luxury hotels and apartments for Muslims passing through the city on their Hajj pilgrimage to the world’s largest mosque.

Sydney Franklin Sydney Franklin

Architecture has the potential to celebrate the space around it by shaping itself to the city it’s built for. Rather than stubbornly standing out in the middle of a crowded urban context, a considerate building can shine on its own while also enhancing adjacent development.

In the case of Foster + Partners’ design for a new, cascading tower complex in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, this unique piece of vernacular architecture heightens the beauty and purity of the nearby Grand Mosque, Islam’s holy place and the largest mosque in the world.

The mixed-used structure will house luxury hotels and apartments for Muslims passing through the city on their required Hajj pilgrimage to the mosque’s central Holy Kaaba building. In recent years, Mecca has seen record-breaking crowds for the Hajj, with over a million and a half people visiting in 2016.

“Our design sets out to create an innovate building form that will be respectful to the scale and importance of the Grand Mosque,” said Foster + Partners senior executive partner Luke Fox.

The complex will be situated across a plaza from the holy site and in between a high-speed rail station, serving as an unofficial gateway to the sacred place. The design features a cluster of vertical structures arranged in a stepped formation — a nod to the density characteristically found in traditional Arabic cities as well as the shape of the surrounding mountainous terrain. The staggered heights allow guests prime views of the mosque. Each room includes a dedicated private prayer and contemplation space with windows that face the Qibla, the direction of the Kaaba.

Upon entering the site, guests will walk under a series of large pillars that branch outward toward the ceiling. The ceilings feature patterned metalwork that light filters through during the daytime, creating a relaxing and reflective atmosphere for visitors.

“Our endeavor has been to make the experience special and appropriate to its unique location,” Fox said. “The design follows a philosophy of ‘luxury with humility’ with an understated elegance throughout the development.”

Foster + Partners was chosen to design the complex through an international design competition with Jabal Omar Development Company, the site’s developer.

All images courtesy of Foster + Partners