Prolific architect Norman Foster has lost a few gigs
recently due to the economy and he might lose another due to a far more spiritual reason. This week as Muslims from around the world prepared to make the annual haj (pilgrimage to Mecca), a Saudi architect denounced the plans for the city, partly because Foster and other "outsiders" are involved in the project. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia asked Foster and other architects to work on plans for updating he sacred city. Non-Muslims are forbidden from even entering the city making it a challenge for some of the architects to plan a place they can never visit.. The Times Online reports
on the controversy and the plans redevelop the Haram mosque to accommodate up to three million people.
A report by the Saudi British Bank says that £15 billion would be invested by foreign and Saudi companies in construction and infrastructure in Mecca by 2012, a move that will see homes and hills replaced by about 130 skyscrapers, including the Abraj al-Bait Towers. The seven towers will include a 2,000-room hotel, a convention center and a shopping mall. But the mosque remains the heart of the city. As more Muslims make the annual pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia has been attempting to offer the latest comforts. In the building frenzy, some things have been lost. Sami Angawi, an expert of Islamic architecture in Mecca and Medina who laments the massive construction plans, refers to Mecca in the Times article as being "blown into pieces." This is a sentiment backed up by the fact that the house of Muhammad's first wife Khadija, where Muslims believe the Prophet received some of the first revelations of the Koran, and the Dar al-Arqam, the first Islamic school, where Muhammad taught have both been lost under the construction. Western companies have redeveloped parts of Mecca before, but because non-Muslims must stay outside of the city, any project is fraught with complications. But where there is money to be made certainly a way will be found.