For its Hajj Terminal design, SOM utilized the highly identifiable form of the Bedouin tent to create a marvel that was the world’s largest cable-stayed, fabric-roofed structure. Completed in 1981, the terminal serves as a physically welcoming, culturally symbolic, and structurally innovative portal for more than one million pilgrims annually.
The terminal is at the King Abdulaziz International Airport, located 43 miles west of the Holy City of Mecca. Approximately once a year during a six-year period, vast numbers of Muslim pilgrims from across the world pass through the airport en route to Mecca. In designing the terminal, SOM needed to create a facility that could handle a large volume of people with highly diversified needs.
In response, SOM designed a linear terminal building and a separate, large support complex where travelers can comfortably prepare for their journey to Mecca. The complex contains facilities for sleep, food preparation, and various support services. The naturally ventilated building is topped by 210 semi-conical, Teflon-coated fiberglass roof units that are contained within a total of 10 modules. The modules are supported by 45-meter-high steel pylons. Because the fabric has a low heat transmission, it allows the sun to cast a warm light over the support area. At night, it becomes a great reflective surface, as uplights bounce light from the roof to the ground below.