The Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has a booming construction sector buoyed by some of the tallest and most impressive structures in the world. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, for instance, extends 2,722 feet into the sky and is the tallest building in the world. Dubai is also home to Marina 101, a 1,422-feet-tall residential skyscraper, and the 1,358-feet-tall Princess Tower, both of which are among the 25 tallest buildings in the world.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, also boasts some of the world’s tallest buildings. The 77-storey Capital Market Authority Headquarters in Riyadh is 1,263 feet tall, but the kingdom’s most spectacular and tallest structure is the Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower in Mecca.
Third-Tallest Building in the World
The 120-storey Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower, at 1,972 feet tall, is the third-largest building in the world behind the Burj Khalifa and China’s Shanghai Tower (2,073 feet tall). The Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower is a mere 7 feet taller than the Ping An Finance Center in China, which ranks fourth worldwide. Other buildings in the top 10 for height include the Lotte World Tower (South Korea), One World Trade Center (USA), and Guangzhou CTF Finance Center (China). All of these buildings were constructed in the 21st century.
Construction of the Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower was initiated in 2004 and completed within six years. This is record time for a building of its size. In contrast, One World Trade Center, which isn’t as tall as the Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower, took 11 years to build.
Most Expensive Building in the World
The world’s third-tallest building also happens to be the most expensive building in the world, at least in terms of the cost of its onstruction. Designed by the Lebanese architecture firm Dar Al-Handasah, the Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower cost $15 billion to build.
While this isn’t a shock considering the height of the building, the complexity of its design, and its remarkable features, part of the reason for the price tag was due to high material costs and bans at the time. According to Reuters, construction costs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have since dropped as much as 15 percent per square meter.
World’s Largest Clock Face
Many think of Big Ben as the most notable and largest clock face in the world, but the clock on the London structure is considerably smaller than the standout feature of the Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower.
In fact, the latter’s dial, which adorns all four sides of the tower, has a diameter of 43 meters (141 feet). It is 36 times larger than Big Ben and 11 meters larger than the second-largest clock, the Istanbul Cevahir in Turkey. The minute hand, meanwhile, is 23 meters long, while the hour hand is 17 meters long. In addition, each of the clock drives weighs some 21 tons.
Visible from several kilometers away, the clock is illuminated at night by approximately 2 million LED lights. The crescent-shaped pinnacle of the structure, located above the clock face and made of fiberglass-backed mosaic gold, has more than two dozen searchlights with the capacity to shoot 10 kilometers into the sky. There is also a dedicated prayer room inside the crescent.
Although the hotels in the clock tower complex can accommodate as many as 2 million worshippers during the annual Islamic pilgrimage to the Mecca, many devout Muslims have been critical of the building. The Abraj Al-Bait complex includes a total of seven towers that contain hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, parking garages, and residential facilities. The fact it was built on the site at which the historic Ottoman Ajyad Fortress once stood also created controversy.
In a 2012 story published by The Guardian, Irfan al-Alawi, executive director of the Islamic Heritage Foundation, noted the construction of the Abraj Al-Bait resulted in the flattening of much of the most historic part of Mecca. People were evicted from their residences with minimal notice, he alleged.
Highest Observation Deck in Saudi Arabia
Besides being Saudi Arabia’s tallest building, the Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower has the country’s highest observation deck. At 1,830 feet above ground, it is also one of the highest observation decks in the world. In addition, the Abraj Al-Bait houses a lunar observation center and Islamic museum, as well as prayer rooms that can accommodate as many as 10,000 people.
The construction of one of the most unique and impressive structures in the world was documented in the 48-minute film The Mecca Clock Tower. Directed by Bensalem Bouabdallah and Taner Karaarslan, the film was shot over a four-year period in 10 different countries. It details the lifespan of the Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower from project inception to inauguration, with a particular emphasis on its architectural challenges. The film was released in 2013.