Work commenced this month for the installation of the world’s largest folding umbrella at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. This would be the first of the eight gigantic high-tech umbrellas and 54 smaller ones that are expected to be installed at the religious site over the next six months.
Manufactured in Germany, each of the eight canopies consists of one giant clock, air conditioners, surveillance cameras and screens for guidelines for visitors. Each of the umbrellas would stand 45 meters tall, weigh close to 16 tons and, when open, offer shade to an estimated area of 2,400 square meters. Approximately 25 engineers, safety experts and specialist technicians from Germany would be carrying out the installation process.
Apart from that, an additional 54 umbrellas would be installed across the northern courtyard of the Grand Mosque, covering a total area of 19,200 square meters. The project also plans on placing at least 122 benches and several service buildings for visitors to rest.
Upon completion, the entire northern plaza spanning from King Abdullah expansion to King Fahd expansion would have canopies that can accommodate as many as 400,000 worshippers.
The German team installing the umbrellas is being supervised by the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques and the Ministry of Education, which have planned the largest ever expansion of Islam’s holiest site.
In December 2014, only a few weeks before his demise, King Abdullah asked for umbrellas to be installed across the courtyards of Mecca’s Grand Mosque. According to Sheikh Abdulrehman al-Sudais, head of the General Presidency, Abdullah’s orders aimed at providing shade to the external plazas apart from the areas that were already included in the King Abdullah expansion project. The additional area is estimated to cover 275,000 square meters. Sudais said over 300 such canopies would provide shade to visitors at the Grand Mosque.
Roughly 250 such umbrellas have already been installed across the plazas surrounding Prophet Mohammad’s mosque in Madinah. These umbrellas are programmed to fold and unfold in a systematic manner to ensure that their moving parts do not collide with one another. Their almost-silent operation is aligned to match the changes in daily temperature. As they open each morning to offer a translucent ceiling for visitors, they shut every evening in under three minutes.
During summer months, these umbrellas offer shade in the daytime by reflecting a lot of the sun’s radiant energy. Similarly at night, they allow the residual heat trapped in the stone floors and walls to escape back into the atmosphere. During winter months, this process is reversed. The umbrellas are closed in the daytime to allow the sun to heat up the site just as they are opened at night to help retain heat at the ground level.
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