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Tue 27 Apr 2010 04:00 AM

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Sacred sites

Designing the Makkah Clock Royal Tower - a Fairmont Hotel, a 1005-room property set on one of the world's most sacred sites, presented an interesting set of challenges for Richmond International.

Sacred sites
The reception area is characterised by its scale.
Sacred sites
High-quality materials were used throughout.
Sacred sites
The hotel has eight food and beverage outlets.
Sacred sites
The design combines modern and traditional Arabian influences.
Sacred sites
The design combines modern and traditional Arabian influences.

Designing the Makkah Clock Royal Tower - a Fairmont Hotel, a 1005-room property set on one of the world's most sacred sites, presented an interesting set of challenges for Richmond International.

With a 1,005-room hotel project, size and scale dominate the agenda. When Richmond International was commissioned to design the Makkah Clock Royal Tower, a Fairmont Hotel, the scale of the project was a key driver in the design process - the significance of its location was another.

The holiest city in the Islamic world, Makkah's primary industry is to support the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which alone attracts up to three million people every year, as well as pilgrims who visit throughout the rest of the year.

Now scheduled to open in August, the hotel forms part of the Abraj Al Bait complex, which incorporates seven towers and is adjacent to the Masjid al Haram mosque and the Kaaba, which is the most sacred site in the Islamic faith and the heart of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The Makkah Clock Royal Tower complex includes over 500 shopping outlets and food courts, set over five floors in the lower ‘Podium' section, luxury apartments on levels 30 to 52, five ‘Royal' floors, and the 1,005-room Fairmont Hotel, which covers a further 28 floors.

The hotel has extensive conference and banqueting facilities, eight food and beverage outlets and a number of dedicated prayer halls. A grand total of 76 elevators guarantee the seamless movement of guests, particularly during calls to prayer.

Facilitating the movement of throngs of people was one of the most important elements of the design, explained Terry McGillicuddy, designer, Richmond International. "A major challenge was to understand, integrate and accommodate the circulation of a very large number of guests and visitors who need to access and, more importantly, exit the building, particularly during the calls to prayer," he pointed out.

At the peak periods of Hajj and Ramadan, the hotel will potentially have to accommodate up to 60,000 people, which meant that close attention had to be paid to fire, health and safety regulations. This extended to all furnishings in both the hotel and apartments, which were subjected to stringent checks.
Richmond International provided full interior design services for the hotel guest rooms and public areas, which included the reception, ballroom areas, business centre, health club, prayer areas and food and beverage outlets.

The sheer size of the project presented inherent challenges. At 577m high, with 76 stories, the Makkah Clock Royal Tower will become one of the world's tallest towers when it opens. The top of the building is adorned with a 40m diameter, four-sided clock that will announce daily prayers. Five times larger than Big Ben, the clock will be visible from 17km away.

"Due to the scale of the areas involved, it was difficult to envisage how some of the spaces could work. For example, the reception area is 27m by 18m and approximately 12m high.

"Therefore, it was necessary for the design to incorporate additional interior architecture in some of these larger spaces, to help break them down into smaller, more manageable areas."

The design balances both traditional and modern Arabic design elements. "Throughout, there has been extensive use of quality materials, such as marble, decorative plasterwork and metal and timber screening. Specially-commissioned chandeliers hang in the large public areas, which are furnished with original, bespoke pieces.

"Due to the large number of areas, a variety of colours and themes have been used, with an underlying palette of calm and neutral colours that link the major public spaces," said McGillicuddy.

The spiritual significance of the site also fundamentally impacted the interior design. "The importance of this religious location was a key factor in the creative process; the balance and simplicity of the traditional and modern Arabic design of the interior reflects the spiritual nature of the location and the sense of humility surrounding the Haram," said McGillicuddy.

But the significance of the location also presented one of the project's greatest challenges - Richmond couldn't be involved on the ground. "The most demanding challenge of the whole project has been that due to the hotel's location, Richmond's designers have been unable to provide supervision at the site itself. Therefore, the relationship with the client and project team has needed to be very trusting and mutually respectful."