I. Executive Summary
The project for The Noble Qur'an Oasis - Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah is a sign of excellence representing a cultural and civic Islamic centre for the research, study and transmission of the Nobel Qur'an: The significance of The Noble Qur'an, The Qur'anic Revelation, The Actual Revelation of the Qur'an, The collection of the Qur'an, The Different Readings of the Qur'an, The use of diacritical marks in the Qur'an, The Preservation of the Qur'an, The Surahs and Ayats in the Qur'an, Rules & Regulations, inimitability (I'jaz) and stories (mentioned in the Qur'an), The Linguistic Eloquence of the Qur'an, The Science of the Noble Qur'an.
Although the Islamic civilization and the Western culture are different in many ways, they both promote the preservation of tradition, yet encourage technology innovation.
Islamic civilization invented geometry, the figure of the circle, the square and the square root of 2. Avoiding figurative expression, Islamic architecture and the design of the ideal city are defined by a strong geometry, which is seen as foundational.
The first Islamic city had a circular plan, with all spaces being enclosed in the circle representing the elemental symbol of unity and the ultimate source of diversity in creation. This traditional city, or rather the idea of this city, serves as the base and the essence for the creation of the Islamic modern city. Such a background has led us to choose a circular concept as the main representational shape of the project for The Noble Qur'an Oasis.
This unique civic and cultural landmark, with its sleek, minimalist design, is a symbolic container where the Islamic science and culture will be displayed. The Analysis, Research, Education and Dissemination of the Islamic culture are the central functions of the scheme.
Like in the ideal city, the project combines all spaces in a creative manner to meet the requirements of the functional program, including up-to-date technology adapted to the project’s contents. Occupying the entire site like a total oasis, the project provides diverse bright open spaces. The layout’s geometry offers the visitors the possibility of choosing alternative itineraries and different scenarios within the flexible structure.
The scheme includes the following functional areas: main entrance, The Chronological Route, the specialized exhibitions, educational section, conference and exhibition center, The Noble Qur'an Library, The Qur'an Research Center, administration, restaurants, visitor’s facilities and open parks, shopping and services areas, car parking and a warehouse.
This iconic project represents the Islamic city and its potential future extensions embodied in a series of covered circular forms, a palm oasis in the forefront, and fruit trees and native plants irrigated by a system of water canals creating a micro-climate. A traditional pattern of courtyards and narrow streets meshed within the structure encloses generously sized inner spaces, which define this center for the research, study and transmission of the Nobel Qur'an, as a unique place strongly related to Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah and its environment.
The simplicity and clarity of the scheme ensures the incorporation of the latest displaying technologies and education interactive tools. Designed with simple, pure lines, the inner spaces provide a calm environment for the study and research on the Nobel Qur'an. Playing a symbolic role at the heart of the complex, the design of the Noble Qur'an Library will guarantee the ideal conditions to preserve the books, scrolls and manuscripts.
II. The Urban Setting
The site and surroundings as understood from far away.
This large piece of land (200,000 sqm) is situated to the north east of Al Madinah in an area marked for future development and is well connected to Madinah City Centre by the major road system to the airport lying just to the North of the site.
The two runways of this Airport are the major objects in view and they are situated approximately 2 kilometers from the sites centre in a direct north south axis and angled a little north east, south west. There is a perimeter airport road separating this land in which the site is located.
A closer view of this land shows a distinct lava flow pattern from a recent historic volcanic eruption less than a thousand years ago. It appears that the lava is approximately a meter thick and we are informed that it will be cleared to be sandy colored rock as visible in the surroundings.
The landscape around the site visioned at a certain height is absolutely fantastic. Proto volcanic craters melting into each other produce unique compositions of sculpture with colors graded from deepest black through browns and red siennas to pure white. A true marvel, and probably unappreciated by the public. But this is the landscape of the Qur’an and its environmental effects on the prophet its essence.
To the north west of Madinah there are kilometers of oasis, palm groves, farms of fruit trees and a river let canal of running water. These palm groves are laid out on a grid system, an Arabic invention to maximize cultivation with available water from canals or reservoirs.
These oasis contain many of the trees and plants mentioned in the Qur’an and are essential reference for this project.
Madinah itself is a circular city centered around its imposing white square Mosque, radiates out to different rings of building development over time. The Nobel Qur’an oasis site is on the outer ring, far away, but connected to the center by radials.
Around the imposing Mosque the ancient city shows off its traditional courtyard houses and narrow streets as a famous example of Madinah City planning in past history.
To sum up the site is flat. There are mountains of volcanic formation in the distance, including a near perfect pyramid to the north. There are visual influences out of the framework such as the palm grove oasis, the inner city and the Mosque. But the principle influence is the Airport runway, it is very closed and is aligned directly over the site for the future important world centre of Islamic Studies. The Noble Qur’an Oasis.
The urban context of the park and gardens is quite clear in the Brief.
The objectives: the landscaping of the plazas and gardens should be inspired by the natural environment of Madinah. Its mountains, valleys and volcanic areas and its natural landmarks. It should also include shaded areas for families and use local rocks, plants and grass “and through this park runs a web of paved pathways which allow movement across the sides of the project and the design of the gardens must integrate vegetation with natural formation in a unique, functional and aesthetic way”.
To fulfill these excellent demands the parks and gardens must be completely integrated with the project buildings. There can be no possibility of covering half the site with a building and the other half with a palm grove park and garden. The park must be the building and the building must be the park and the whole a Paradise.
Therefore all major activities follow flow paths from outside to inside and back outside to achieve this fusion. The palm tree back as the column.
It is propose to further develop the circular plan effect outside the site to envelope the neighboring lands, as with ripples of water on an oasis pool.
There is not an interference, just a concept of reading the landscape at a larger scale and applying this to the local urban context.
III The Architectural Concept
The Brief is perfectly clear and well explained.
It demands a building complex dedicated to the study and perception of the Noble Qur’an situated in an Oasis Park. The study program involves spaces dedicated to research, education, conferences and libraries.
The perception program to display and exhibition spaces dedicated to the understanding and dissemination of the Noble Qur’an, with emphasis on families and children.
The building complex formed by these different spaces programmed with their areas, also demands a considerable amount of back-up building as well as public open spaces.
The built area is considerable, almost the same area as the site which it will occupy. The spread is bigger as a ground floor general solution is optimum for the disabled. The Brief demands maximum flexibility of internal spaces allowing for different items of the program to be changed.
It is clear that the building should be a container rather than the result of the contained, and that the container should be integrated into a garden park for popular enjoyment as well as inspiring contemplation and reflection in an environment of peace and quiet.
So adding up the inspirational influences. The positive: the circular plans of Arab cities, the geological formations of volcanic craters, the potent palette of the colored rocks, the palm grove grids and the predominant square of the Great Mosque. And the negative: the difficult identification of the site in terms of character or LOCI and the proximity of the Airport runways.
There are no figures available but deduced information assumes over 100 flights a day during Hajj and about 30-40 regional flights the rest of the year. No acoustic measurements are on hand but common sense and long professional experience would suggest a high decibel range with different peaks throughout the day at 5 minute intervals.
Whether the aircraft are landing or taking off, the noise is aggressive. Hardly propitious to the contemplation, recitation and inner reflection demanded over the subject, not to speak of scholarly studies.
There is a fundamental functional need to shield the building from acoustic aggression.
The shield can form the roof of circular forms (craters) created and interwoven on the site, all of which can be covered by a dense garden park of palm trees, using both the roof shields and the terraced circular walls raised well above the dessert sand as sound buffers against acoustic aggression as well as elevated walkways to contemplate the gardens.
The walls are terraced, forming multilevels of rock and stone paths with ramps and stairs winding around each other to permit layered walkways with hanging plants and gardens inspired on Babylon. The walls can contain different functions as well as acting as ring ducts for all services. The top public walkway will have a shade pergola and sitting places to relax and contemplate the Paradise Gardens.
The Noble Qur’an Oasis covers the site in a circular geometric pattern, with 4 smaller circles surrounding the bigger circle of 300 m diameter. The circles are shaped by walls of varying heights of sloped nature not unlike the geometric shape of volcanos.
The central circle contains the principle oasis building divided into 4 asymmetrical segments by interior streets following a functional order. The Oasis building is covered by a circular thick concrete disc covered in earth plants with an extraordinary high level volcanic garden. This is the acoustic shield as well as the symbolic shield of protection, the renown Arabic shield itself.
Around this large circular form are the other smaller circles each with its own function. Between these crater of varying heights lower that the main circle are open spaces at ground floor level for plazas at each end. The West end is the Royal Gateway and the East ends the entry and drop off for the general public on the Airport road. There are small entries and plazas for services around the project integrated into the volumes of the crater walls.
All the circular craters are roofed with flat discs of concrete, smaller shields and planted with earth and conceptual gardens.
The roof, all perfect circles, cantilever out over the different buildings below, and there is a considerable separation between the traditional type building and the crater wall allowing ventilation and natural light.
In the case of the main Oasis Building which is 200 m x 200 m there are ground level garden spaces of 240 m x 50 m (some 7000 sqm)repeated on 4 sides, which will be planted with palm trees and although shaded by the cantilevered roof will be catching sun rays through small wells or holes in the disc, beaming down to the garden.
The roof park will be connected to the ring walkways by bridges and accessible to the interior of the building by opening placed above the courtyard (lanterns) which are designed into the layout plan of the Oasis Building. The roof park will have smaller openings to parts of the interior permitting natural down light to the chosen areas below.
The main Oasis Building is laid out on a grid of 20 m x 20 m with substantial free standing columns and is wrapped in today’s equivalent of white marble or alabaster, a double façade of white glass. The four inner streets form part of the building. They are interior and climatized. The North South Street divides the site on the centre line. These divisions respond to organizational functions. Each segment is made up of squares of 400 sqm which are grouped around courtyards on the form of a hyperstyle hall on columns. The façade lies outside the last column line.
The courtyards lead up to the roof garden and there is an access by stairs and lift to this park as well as a shaded glass cube which is also part of the ventilation system for air renovation.
The courtyards are tiled with geometric patterned floors and also contain restroom and tea room zones. If demanded, prayer rooms can also be attached though the courtyard itself with its slender pairs of columns and fountain is a very suitable place for prayer and a general public large prayer hall is provided by the Entry Gate.
The open spaces for display and exhibitions are connected by attractively designed pared pedestrian pathways clearly signed to follow the routes through the Qur’an as demanded in the Brief.
The scholarly areas on the North / South axis (Qibla) have an upper level gallery, open to the ground floor with stairs and lift connection. There are many wonderful examples of this feature in Islamic architecture and it is suggested to use a wood structure with open balustrade. In the demand for gender separation, two entries are supplied direct to the relevant floor.
The Conference Centre is a model adaptable to pluri-functional needs and has an upper balcony for Royalty and Authorities. There is a technical space for interpreters with translation booths and sophisticated lighting and technical layouts.
The upper balcony has its own reception hall with a private gallery and bridge across to the first floor V.I.P reception area. This is divided into two levels for Authorities and Royalty with space for guard rooms. On the same side of the street to the Conference centre are restaurants on two floors connected to the Conference Hall.
The West Gate Royal Entry has a shaded pergola drop off plaza with a basement car park, guards area and access directly to the street through an open door way in the wall, reaching the V.I.P zones and Conference Hall. This device allows Royalty a personalized and security controlled entry.
The Conference Hall is for 1000 persons with generous seating and computer work spaces. The female section can be separated by floor, row or partitions as accorded by the Client.
The Entertainment circular garden and plaza on the South East, has built up grade seating against the wall for shows, etc, is completed by food and refreshment kiosks around the wall and a square market place in the centre with shops and other convenience facilities. More concessions will surely be needed with the success of the Oasis and can be developed in the wall. There is a children’s play area integrated into the wall with exciting cave like rooms and many activities as the wall is 20 m wide.
The terrace gardens continue round the craters with pathways which can connect with the shield roof park.
The Entertainment circular plaza lies to the South of the Main Entry Plaza (East Gate) off the Airport road. There is a generous drop off under a shaded pergola and a short walk to the entry of the Oasis building across the Plaza, always shade protected by pergola and palm trees.
The car park, next to the drop off. The cars and drivers carry on to the car park crater for 800 cars on three levels with ramps to the North and pedestrian access to the South, a ravinelike cutting in the wall of the crater fitted with lifts and escalators. Next to the car park is a bus / coach station with the shade pergola shared for the Main Entry.
In the folds of the crater between walls are spaces for the drivers’ rest rooms and cafeteria for waiting. There is also a carwash and workshop provided.
The roof is another concrete discs with gardens on top and can be attached to the rest of the roof park. The idea has not been studied further, but the intention is to connect all the roof parks and wall walkways together to allow circulation flow in any direction but in 3 D so to speak. A similar experience to climbing up, down and around a group of volcanos fused together and miniaturized all planted with palm groves and gardens representing different nature scenarios related to the Qur’an.
The Walls are basically 20 m wide at the base and are stepped in 2.0 m high terraces. These terraces are built in stone on a concrete platform base, and filled with earth on gravel for drainage. The interior of the wall contains different functions as well as technical space and security control. The bas of the wall can be opened up by ravine type entries into large cave like structures, as said, which can be introduced into the display routes. When the walls of the big crater meet walls of a small crater, important spaces occur which can be incorporated into the various programs of the Brief.
For example service / plant spaces to the South West and a large coffee shop, popular restaurante to the South East of the Entertainment circle. The walls are of different heights from 8 m to 10 m, to 12m. So, with varying geometries of slopes and terracing, these crater walls are continually inspiring new ideas and solutions and with more time can become a unique and original architectural creation.
The buildings are all white inside using a white Portland cement finish, sand blasted and polished, with the effect of a stucco. The floors are all basically white marble with different inlays to form the pathway routes and geometric arabesques on the courtyard floors. The glazing is off white with a warm light finish, such as alabaster. The corners of the building receiving direct sunlight are thermically protected by infill between the exterior and interior glass. The glass panels will be as seamless as possible. The only visible structure is the grand columns in the halls and the smaller columns marking the courtyards.
The columns are formed to allow flexible partitioning choice. The interior partitions or panels for all display and exhibition areas have heights well short of the ceiling. The ceiling is a continuous white lacquered surface with micro perforated panels containing all necessary installations. All buildings in the craters are of this type.
The walls are lava rock mixed with sand colored granite. The bottom layer of these walls can be line washed to produce exciting contrast with the water pools and ravine entries into the wall covered in palm trees and other Qur’anic plants.
The ramps and stairs up the terraced gardens are all stone, preferably different lava colors and samples of the magnificent Madinah volcanic surroundings. The whole site is a symphony of geological harmony with the symbolic four entries and rivers / twinning through the magnificent gardens on different levels. A symbiosis of history, geology, nature and Islam! The Gardens of Paradise.