London, Nov 29 : A multibillion-pound project aims to redevelop the holy city of Mecca, with the help of a group of architects and engineers, who will provide ideas for the ambitious and highly sensitive construction project.
According to a report in the Times, the confidential plans, reported in The Architects' Journal, are believed to be endorsed by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia.
Modern Mecca is all but unrecognizable from the city that predated the foundation of the Saudi kingdom in 1932.
Conservationists claim that hundreds of historic buildings have been levelled to make way for high-rise hotels and apartment blocks.
A report by the Saudi British Bank, one of the kingdom's biggest lenders, estimated earlier this year that 15 billion dollars will be invested by foreign and Saudi companies in construction and infrastructure in Mecca by 2012.
Homes and hills are to be flattened and in their place about 130 skyscrapers are planned, including the Abraj Al Bait Towers, which is to be one of the world's biggest buildings.
At the centre of the development will be the redesign of the Haram mosque and its surrounding area.
King Abdullah is understood to have recruited 18 leading architects, engineers and construction firms to "establish a new architectural vision" for the 356,800 square meter complex.
According to The Architects' Journal, the project is likely to be phased, with the initial stage increasing the capacity of the mosque from 900,000 to 1.5 million. Once the scheme is completed, capacity for the district should be 3 million.
The proposals have been split into two.
Foster and Partners, which is headed by Lord Foster, is one of ten practices that will look at a range of alternatives for the northern expansion of the Haram mosque.
Zaha Hadid, a Pritzker Prize winning architect, has been given the key job of coming up with ideas for the mosque itself, as well as "revisiting the whole area of the central district".
"The main objective of the design studies is to enrich our discourse on how we should address the future architecture of the Haram," according to a source close to the project.