The Mecca Clock Tower: Scaling Soaring Heavenly Ambitions

by Muslim Pro

‘The Mecca Clock Tower’ is available to watch on Qalbox. We are currently running a limited time promo (more than 60% OFF) for you to enjoy unlimited access to Qalbox and Muslim Pro ad-free! Claim it now!

A construction of an extremely tall superstructure with its own unique set of challenges and engineering breakthroughs all rolled into one mega project. A clock tower that is 35 times larger than the Big Ben in London, the United Kingdom! The Mecca Clock Tower tracks the erection of a massive clock tower that would leave anyone in awe of its majestic, towering ambitions. During and after its completion, it managed to break over 30 world records, then!

A still from The Mecca Clock Tower, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Heavenly Clock Tower On Earth

“This clock is by far the tallest in the whole world. We could not refer back to anything. We were in completely new territory.”

Heinrich Perrot, Mechanical Engineer

An architectural masterpiece is not built overnight. Most importantly, it demands the best of the best in terms of expertise and materials on top of careful and meticulous coordination. Ultimately, it is teamwork on an immense scale, crossing geographical boundaries with the involvement of construction firms from 10 countries.

At a dizzying height of 600 metres, the clock tower is embellished with 98 million mosaic tiles with nearly one third covered in 24 karat gold leaf. In addition to over two million LEDs (light-emitting diode) adorning the outer facade.

“The entire design came about in close collaboration with the clients. Lots of people contributed their ideas. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.”

Dr Mahmoud Bodo Rasch, Architect

A German firm pitched a total of 107 design ideas to choose from! Its aesthetics combined traditional forms and modern designs. One of the world’s best calligraphers, Efdaluddin Kilic, from Istanbul, Turkey, was tasked with creating the drafts on paper for the huge monument that was then replicated a hundred times bigger on the faces of the clock tower. The intricacies and attention to detail at every stage were astounding.

Labour Of Science Under Pressure

A still from The Mecca Clock Tower, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

In 2006, Saudi Arabia decided to include a clock tower on an already existing tower, that effectively increased its height from 450 metres to 600 metres. It was a monumental task working within a very tight schedule; a four-year deadline. Simply: Religion meets science at the intersection of beauty overlapping Islamic aesthetics.

Interestingly, the Eiffel Tower served as a model to the German engineers due to the challenge in weight distribution. As such height would only be made possible using a highly efficient steel construction.

The millions of mosaic tiles took a year to produce in the city of Venice, Italy, which has centuries of experience in the field. However, to solely rely on traditional manufacturing methods was not feasible. Thus, the decision to turn to automation whereby the ancient traditional handicraft was then propelled to meet state-of-the-art 21st century technology. Even then, quality was not compromised; only completely flawless mosaic tiles were picked.

“When you analyse the issue as per usual, in research and development, you often just come to more questions. With every answer, you get five new questions.”

Professor Dr Christian Bartenbach, Electrical Engineer

The clock tower has to be readable day and night at a distance of 500 metres. Thus, what colours are to be chosen? Red, blue, white or green? Researchers in Austria performed a field test. What we see now is not at the whim and fancy of the Saudi Kingdom, or inexperienced individuals dictating without specific expertise. It was a thoughtful approach in decision making that considered the capacity of human eyes based on its physiological characteristics.

The building of the biggest and strongest clock mechanism in the world was no accident. It was the result of multiple research opportunities that gave birth to the masterpiece of German engineering ingenuity. There were so many calculated risks to consider, including climatic conditions such as sudden changes to weather patterns ranging from scorching heat of the desert to torrential rain and thunderstorms. Also, architects had to examine the aerodynamics characteristics of the clock tower.

As such, the different exterior elements of the outer facade were made of carbon fibre components, a material that has been dubbed as material of the future.

“Logistics was one of the major challenges in the King Abdulaziz Endowment Project and, in particular, the clock tower because of the scale of the project and its location next to the Haram [Al-Masjid Al-Haram Mosque].”

Mohamed Afanah, Site Manager

A still from The Mecca Clock Tower, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

One major hurdle that is ever-present being that only Muslims are allowed to enter the construction site located in the holy site, Mecca. Therefore, extremely meticulous planning, scheduling and coordination were required for a smooth installation of the superstructure. Clear communication was key in the equation.

“The installation of the clock drive on site is a special moment. It felt as if I could not be there for the birth of my own daughter…. Making the right decision at the right time when you are not on site is a real challenge.”

Andreas Perrot, Mechanical Engineer

Still, the joint effort and coordination provided new and exciting challenges and experiences for all parties involved in the project.

Whose Legacy Exactly?

A gripping tale of engineering feat compounded by science and made possible by brilliant minds and sweat of the thousands of professional individuals and labourers, masters of their fields across the world paid for in billions of dollar.

A still from The Mecca Clock Tower, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Yet, the hilal (crescent moon) at the top of the tower, which houses the tallest prayer room in Mecca is ironically reserved for a few high ranking dignitaries. As it has been observed, even in Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, there are some kids whom would be just a tad happier compared to the rest because of their premium tickets. Special passes that allow them to jump any queue. In Mecca, ironically, not all Muslims have access to such earthly privilege – the opportunity to pray in the hilal, at 600 metres high.

Again, let’s be reminded of the overall price tag? Estimated at USD$ 2 billion.

Is it a giant monstrosity that reeks of ugly ambitions propelled by the greed of one kingdom’s chase after eternal legacy? Or, simply scaling of humanly effort in reaching soaring, heavenly ambitions? Has the kingdom of Saudi Arabia truly left a legacy of epic proportions?

For whom precisely?