How the World's Biggest Clock Tried to Change the Center of Time

For the multitudes of cultural differences that exist throughout human civilization, we do share a single, universal goal: to build stuff bigger and better than the schmucks next door. Every single one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was created as a chest-thumping, neighbor-shaming testament to its builder's awesomeness. That proud tradition continues even today with Saudi Arabia's massive Mecca-clock, a timepiece so enormous it almost ended Greenwich Mean Time.

The clock sits atop the Abraj Al-Bait (Mecca Royal Hotel) Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia—steps away from the world's biggest mosque and Islam's most sacred site—and is surrounded by the five-star Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel which caters to wealthy pilgrims travelling through the holy land during the Hajj. Saudi Arabia's largest construction firm, the Saudi Binladin Group, built the hotel complex for an estimated $15 billion. The Fairmont group handles the hotel's daily operations.

Illustration for article titled How the World's Biggest Clock Tried to Change the Center of Time

At 1,972 feet, the Makkah clock tower is the tallest building in Saudi Arabia and, worldwide, is second in height only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. That total height does include a 233-foot tall spire used to help track the moon during Islam's Holy Months, but even without, it's still the worlds tallest clock tower and a technological marvel. Designed by the Swiss engineering firm Straintec, each of the clock's four faces measures 141 feet squared (making them the world's largest), are comprised of 98 million glass mosaic pieces, and are outfitted with two million LED lights in addition to a 56-foot hour hand and 72-foot minute hand. Another 21,000 white and green lights run along the top of the clock and flash during the day's five calls to prayer. These prayer lights are visible up to 18 miles away.

Illustration for article titled How the World's Biggest Clock Tried to Change the Center of Time

In the run up to the hotel's opening in 2012, many speculated that the clock would be set to local Mecca Time. The clock's proprietors, in fact, hoped that the structure would be so awe-inspiring that people around the world would forsake Greenwich Mean Time, the 125-year-old chronological "center" of the globe, in favor of Mecca Mean Time. Plus, according to popular Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the clock's location is "in perfect alignment with the magnetic north" a thin slice of space where magnetism purportedly doesn't exist. "That's why if someone travels to Mecca or lives there, he lives longer, is healthier and is less affected by the earth's gravity," he said. "You get charged with energy."

However, after a bit of cursory Googling revealed that magnetic North actually sits on a longitude that passes through the United States, the clock was set to Arabia Standard Time. [PopSci - Wikipedia - Telegraph - Skyscraper Center - Fairmont Hotels - Image: King Eliot, Fadi El Benni / Al Jazeera English]


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Does the Burj Kahlifa and this massive clock tower actually utilize all its space effiiciently? Do people actually use these structures in such a way as to justify their construction and cost? Or are these places doomed to fail without lifelines from wealthy sponsors?