Mecanoo proposes Noble Quran Oasis for Saudi Arabian desert. As part of the ‘noble quran oasis’ competition dutch practice Mecanoo has proposed a unifying structure that references both the physical and the poetic characteristics of ancient islamic cities. This is a proposal that unifies the diverse pieces of the complex in one cohesive image; one concept, one ideal. Inspired by the physical and poetic characteristics of the great Islamic cities of the past, it reinvents and reinterprets their formal language into calligraphy, which becomes both a spatial as well as visual experience.
It also offers an urban solution that promotes connective opportunities and harnesses the potential to act as a catalyst for change in surrounding areas. An icon inspired by nature, it exists in harmony with its context and in its abstraction is timeless, capable of relating the past with the future. In its physical expression, it creates spaces that respect the needs of all people at a scale that at once impresses and moves, whilst offering protection and sheltering. All elements in its plan collectively symbolize one of the most compelling messages of the noble Qur’an: oneness.
He cast firmly embedded mountains on the earth so it would not move under you, and rivers and pathways so that hopefully you would be guided (Qur’an, 16:15). These select verses articulate the prominent role that mountains perform as symbols of permanence and promise, whilst also illustrating their strength as anchors, fundamental to and firmly supporting the Prophet’s word, peace be upon him. By using the mountain as a formal metaphor, our proposal for the Noble Qur’an Center encapsulates the timeless veracity of the message of the Qur’an.
The mountain, as a symbol of firmness and foundation, also figures in the revelations to the Prophet, peace be upon him. The ‘mountain’, and more specifically, its cave-like interior dwelling, was the site of the first revelation. Therefore, in the approach to the center, visitors first identify it as a result of its prominent mountain silhouette, but upon entering, it, as with the Cave of Hira, it reveals itself as a vessel for the knowledge of the Qur’an.
Respect of the natural landscape
The city of Al-madinah is situated amidst a fertile oasis, with a city skyline dominated by distant mountain silhouettes. Mountainous in form, the Qur’an complex therefore integrates harmoniously with this setting. It engages in a respectful dialogue with both its natural surroundings, whilst resonating with Islamic tradition, making a compelling and elegant contribution to this multi-dimensional context. Mountains are archetypal symbols of architectural achievement-from the Giza pyramids in ancient Egypt, to the Mayan temples in Central America.
They are a pure architectural form and exist as universal reference for landmarks and iconic architecture. Mountains are not only fundamental to the Noble Qur’an Center because of their reference in the character of the landscape that surrounds it, but also because they affix the status of mountains as universally-recognized icons to the Noble Qur’an Center, thus articulating in form and function, the universality, and purity of the message of the Qur’an.
Morphology and Typology
Just like its inspirational model, this proposal for the Noble Qur’an Oasis presents a collective form that reflects the double status of the traditional Arabic city: stepping back, all pieces are united under one rule, generating a clear and distinct shape (the mountain), upon closer inspection, each part of the complex is defined and contains discrete exterior spaces. Thus, a uniform gesture transitions into different building typologies in order to accommodate the diversity of program required.
Utilizing the volume of the monumental entrance spaces at its center, the “mountain” gently slopes down, transforming into single-level patio structures on either shoulder. Directly influenced by Islamic urbanity, the building’s dense organic form leverages vernacular sustainable strategies. Genuine sustainable efforts should not be based in technology, but augmented by demonstrated traditional techniques, particularly in this climate. Islamic communities often settled in hostile climates and terrain; therefore, it was not always possible for the settlement to exist in harmony with their environment.
Instead, in refuge and escape from oppressive climates, houses clustered into compact formation providing self-articulated protection and heat isolation. Greenery and water had to be domesticated and introduced into the urban environment artificially, in interior patios. Because large open spaces proved intolerable due to the penetrating sun, they were reserved only for rare occasions such as military parades or similar festivities.
Article by Marco Rinaldi