Each year, over four million people observe the fifth pillar of Islam by making a pilgrimage to holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia — the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad –which must be undertaken at least once during the observant Muslim’s lifetime. In a city without a whole lot in the way of public transportation, the vast majority of those pilgrims must come by car or taxi, or via a large fleet of buses, none of which does much for the region’s carbon footprint.
The solution? The Haramain High-speed Railway, which will connect the cities of Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and the developing King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).
Where there is a railway, of course, there must be railway stations, and while the global architecture behemoth known as Foster + Partners is no stranger to major infrastructure design (it has completed projects in 150 cities across 50 different countries, ranging from airports to parliament buildings) this a significant project by anyone’s standards.
Collaborating with local architect Dar Al Riyadh at the behest of Saudi Arabia’s king, Foster + Partners developed a modular design for five ultra-modern passenger stations – one in Mecca, two in Jeddah, one at King Abdul Aziz International Airport and one in Madinah. These five stations, put together, will cover an area more than 30 times the size of London’s Trafalgar Square and are expected to accommodate as many as 60 million passengers with energy efficient high speed rail by 2012.
Each of these large, flexible stations was conceived of as a “gateway” to one of the major cities it connects. Each will be filled with places to meet, shop, eat and (most importantly) take shelter from the heat while awaiting a train.