Reviving the Traditional Architecture of the City of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, through Designing Pedestrian Pathways to Improve Walkability and Enhance Pil

Presented by: Aisha Malibary, Saleh Kalantari

Research Goal This research focuses on the interior design of the pedestrian pathways and tunnels that pass among the new skyscrapers in the city of Mecca, and that link the edges of the city’s downtown with the holy mosque of Masjid al-Haram. The goal of the investigation is to design a culturally relevant architecture for these passages that will also promote walkability. This can create many benefits for the pilgrims that come to the city, in terms of both health and ritual experience, as well as benefiting the city’s inhabitants in their daily efficiency and human engagement. Context The downtown area of the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, is currently undergoing architectural changes, and a significant amount of construction work had been undertaken to make the area more convenient for pilgrims and visitors. Makkah receives more than 5 million pilgrims each year, as Muslims from all over the world arrive to perform the Hajj or Umrah journeys (Al-Tawfiq et al., 2015). The government has responded to the city’s popularity by constantly upgrading its facilities to accommodate this massive number of people. Almost all of the historical architecture that once surrounded the holy mosque was destroyed, and now new, modern buildings dominate the environment. There is a growing body of research in the area of public health that examines environmental factors as correlates of physical activity and social participation (Bellair, 1997; Sugiyama et al., 2007). This literature suggests that the physical environment is a key factor in enhancing human engagement and people’s ability to navigate through the city. There has been little research done, however, on the way in which the design of the built environment can contribute to ritual walking experiences and the spiritual aspects of this engagement. This aspect of the built environment is of fundamental importance in Makkah, since the overwhelming majority of the city’s visitors have a specifically religious goal in mind and believe in the spiritual value of walking toward the center-point of the city. Research Questions There are two primary research questions addressed in this study. First, how can pedestrian pathways be designed to enhance visitors’ religious experience and support their goal of moving from ordinary consciousness toward spiritual consciousness? Second, how can these pathways be designed to better link the newly innovative architecture of the city with the ancient traditional architecture that reflects the city’s historical and cultural significance? Research Methods The approach to this design problem will be informed by reviewing architectural literature on sense of place, cultural identity, and designing for experience, as well as an examination of the historical architecture of Makkah. The researcher will also review case studies that involved designing pathways for pedestrians in large cities, and in which elements of historical architecture were integrated into modern design, in order to see how designers have solved similar problems in the past. The literature of critical regionalism will also factor into this design research. The information collected during this literature review will be used to develop a theoretical and logical framework for approaching the pathway design in Makkah. Results and Relevance The research outcome will be divided into two parts. First, the research will lead to generalizable knowledge about designing for spiritual engagement, synthesized from a diverse review of architectural literature and case studies. Second, the research will lead to a specific design proposal for pedestrian pathways in the city of Makkah informed by the general knowledge developed during the literature review. The outcome of this design will be more walkable and culturally/spiritually relevant interior environment that encourages active human engagement.


  • Al-Tawfiq, J. A., & Memish, Z. A. (2015). Potential risk for drug resistance globalization at the Hajj. Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 21(2), 109–114.
  • Bellair, P. E. (1997). Social interaction and community crime: Examining the importance of neighbor networks. Criminology, 35(4), 677–704.
  • Humpel, N., Owen, N., Iverson, D., Leslie, E., & Bauman, A. (2004). Perceived environment attributes, residential location, and walking for particular purposes. American journal of preventive medicine, 26(2), 119–125.
  • Sugiyama, T., & Thompson, C. W. (2007). Outdoor environments, activity, and the well-being of older people: Conceptualizing environmental support. Environment and Planning A, 39(8), 1943.
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