The Abraj Al Bait clock tower—completed across the Holy Mosque’s southern plaza in 2011 and currently the tallest clock tower in the world—has marked its territory in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Beyond being a public tool for time-keeping, the clock tower, originating in Europe, has historically also served as a medium asserting and subverting different forms of power—whether governmental or institutional. Similarly, the Abraj Al Bait clock tower has been used as a form of soft power by the Saudi government in the past decade. This research examines the means through which Saudi Arabia intertwines its national, religious and global identities through the Abraj Al Bait clock tower as a means of asserting itself economically and geopolitically within a globalized network. The three constituent elements comprising this investigation include looking at the clock tower as an architectural monument, a political technology and a catalyst for urban development within the Holy city.
The first chapter introduces the Abraj Al Bait clock tower, and examines its design and patronage, shedding light on the transnational and local entities involved. From an architectural perspective, a closer analysis is placed on the clock tower not being a part of the original design proposal for the tower complex. The addition of the clock component to the tower plays an important role in transforming the tower into a landmark within the Holy city. Next, a deeper historical contextualization of clock tower construction in Mecca reveals that the Abraj Al Bait is not the first, but rather the third clock tower constructed in Mecca in the last century. The second chapter offers an investigation of the clock tower as a political technology used to legitimize Saudi Arabian governance since the inception of the nation state. I finally examine the clock tower, not for what it symbolizes but rather for its operation as a real estate development intended as an economic catalyst in the Holy city. I use Vision 2030 as a temporal marker to analyze the role the Abraj al Bait clock tower plays in attracting such expansions. Through my investigation of the clock tower as an architectural monument, political technology and catalyst for urban development, I argue for the importance of the role the clock tower has played over the last century as a politically and economically legitimating symbol for the Saudi state.