Architect: Design Worldwide Partnership
Client: Sumou Real Estate
Location: Mecca, Saudi Arabia
This massive development will be home to museums, a convention centre, shops, hotels and apartments on the outskirts of Mecca. The client, Sumou Real Estate, drafted in Bahrain-based firm Design Worldwide Partnership (DWP) and Sidel Gibson Architects to come up with the overall concept for the site, which will serve as a cultural attraction for religious tourists and Saudis. The Cultural Oasis will include a Hajj museum, a visitor centre and a Centre for Sustainable Research, as well as four million square of affordable housing, community services, schools and hospitals.
The development will be built just outside the haram area of Mecca, meaning that it can be visited by anyone interested in the Hajj or the religion of Islam, whether they are Muslim or not. Situated close to the main entrance to the city. The perimeter of the district is surrounded by planned communities and tall apartment blocks which protect the Cultural Oasis from high winds and sandstorms.
DWP has designed the Cultural Oasis to be a one-stop shop for those looking to learn about Islam.
“This one is a place for all visitors to go. Anything you want to know about history and culture the journey of Hajj,” said Kristina Zanic, DWP founding partner. Zanic added that the development was in line with the traditional architecture of the Hejaz region. “We were asked by the client to really focus on Hejazi architecture, which was really something that is renowned in Jeddah. We focused on that but we also looked at very modernistic entrances, iconic spaces,” she said.
The entrance to the site is marked with a an Arabic masharabiya, which creates shading patterns on the walkway.
“We wanted to create a pattern and shadow on the entrance road, as opposed to making the patterns just in the buildings themselves,” Zanic said. The designers tried to incorporate traditional Hejazi architecture, using simple but bold forms such as domes and cylindrical towers. Pedestrian archways and domes create a traditional sense of grandeur.
The main focal point of the Visitor Centre is a glass observation bridge connecting two design galleries and shops. The top level of the central tower is a large panoramic café for visitors to enjoy views of surrounding area. The glass bridge creates a gateway to between the business and cultural districts of the development. One of the largest galleries is the Hajj Museum which tells the story of the pilgrimage to Mecca over time. In the Time Line Gallery, the museum features a large digital map showing historical routes of pilgrimages from across the world.
The Convention Centre is housed under a giant shell-like canopy clad in bronzed metal panels, which covers the entire length of the exhibition space and projects over the grand arrival lobby. A large plaza which is adjacent to the arrival lobby provides space for evening outdoor events.
A pedestrian corridor circumnavigates the entire development and borrows urban features from both new cities and the old souks. The corridor runs parallel to a ground-level tram system, which has stations shaded by tensile fabric structures and palm trees.
Zanic said that as a firm, working in the realm of Islamic architecture had been rewarding. “It was exciting, understanding the culture because we’re not Muslims. I went out and bought books on the Hajj and on Islamic architecture, you get to understand and appreciate it,” she said.