Obtaining Holiness: Challenges in Modernising Makkah

Ahmed Al Ali

Ahmed Al-Ali

For five days every year, the population of Saudi Arabia increases by 3 million. That’s when Muslims visit Mecca for one of the religion’s most sacred rites: the Hajj. Most cities aren’t built to handle this kind of surge capacity.

Mecca, however, has to consistently evolve its urban planning that can provide a seamless run to the World’s biggest event. As the tragic stampede at this year’s gathering showed, at a certain density those crowds can become dangerous. To achieve the best and the safest infrastructure, the Saudis have, over the years, turned to a series of the world’s best architects and designers to try to keep millions of pilgrims safe, healthy, awed, and (a few of them) very, very comfortable. Now, in addition to searching for the logistical solution – the authorities are also aware of the importance of achieving the city’s modernisation while honoring the tenets of Islam. The result is a city of carefully regulated experiences, with more work yet to be done. 


Ahmed Al-Ali, an architect from the UAE, looks at the Holy City of Makkah as a model for 21st century holy/ sacred city and the unique challenges and solutions that other cities can learn from. Ahmed graduated from the American University of Sharjah with a Degree in Architecture and established his critical design firm X-Architects in 2003 that since has gained continuous recognition and have been exhibited in international reputed venues like Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London in 2011 and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen 2014. In 2010, Ahmed was honoured with the prestigious and one of the highest ranked local awards, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Award For Young Business Leaders.

Ahmed ardently contributes to various research projects and has collaborated on Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council Building and neighborhood guidelines. He is a board member of the Canadian University of Dubai, the UAE University of Al Ain and the Al Hosn University in Abu Dhabi. He is actively involved in academic spheres and is a recurring critic and lecturer at various educational institutions and associations. Ahmed recently lectured and joined a panel discussion called “Housing the Spring” at Harvard University.