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How Madinah’s sustainable smart lighting project complements the unique identity of the Holy City

MADINAH: For hundreds of years, Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Madinah, known as the City of Lights, has been a beacon of knowledge, peace, and enlightenment. Today, the city of the prophet aims to enchant visitors and residents with a brand new smart lighting system.

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Architect Ziad Tariq Darwish Daiwali, the project’s study and design director, told Arab News that he is optimistic about the sustainable transformation that will highlight Madinah’s natural beauty while also increasing nighttime safety and security.

The first stage of the project, which is still in the early stages of implementation, will replace many of the city’s existing yellow light bulbs with LED street lights, which use much less energy and benefit the environment.

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“The light can change your mood, change your feeling and change the feeling in the city when you walk through it and near the Al-Haram (Mosque),” Daiwali told Arab News.

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“Our goal in this project is to give a special visual experience to residents and visitors in Madinah. We started to focus on the most (popular) areas that people come to visit, besides Al-Haram, the central area.

Exterior shot of the AlMadinah Region Development Authority building in AlMadinah. (Hamza Mahmoud Hasan)

“It will be the first step of this project and after that we will focus on heritage and architectural elements and landmarks for the whole city.

“In line with Vision 2030, this project is very important for the city of Madinah, for residents and visitors, because it will encourage tourism, encourage (economic growth), improve its functions and increase safety and security for all. It will us also a special identity different from other cities in the kingdom.

Cities around the world are turning to sustainable lighting solutions to improve the urban landscape and increase the quality of life. Under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification agenda, the well-being of citizens is of utmost importance.

The Kingdom’s Smart City vision sets out to develop innovative solutions that focus on sustainable infrastructure, livability and highlight the most prominent features of the urban landscape.

In line with this vision, the Al-Madinah Region Development Authority began preparing an integrated study to expand and renew the city’s electric lights, under the directives of Prince Faisal bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Governor of Madinah province, according to Asharq Al-Awsat daily.

In its first phase, the study will focus on the central area around the Prophet’s Mosque, and it will gradually expand to include all vital landmarks and sites in Madinah. The ultimate goal is to install low-energy LED light bulbs throughout the city.

Architect Ziad Tariq Darwish Daiwali, who is in charge of this project, speaks to Arab News from the AlMadinah Region Development Building in AlMadinah. (Hamza Mahmoud Hasan)

The plan is to create a unique atmosphere, compatible with the city’s identity, to offer residents and visitors an inspiring visual experience that improves the quality of life and encourages the expansion of commercial, tourism and investment opportunities in the region.

Fahad Albuliheshi, CEO of MMDA, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the main pillar of the project is to study the renewal and promotion of the lighting identity in Madinah based on “its religious status among Muslims and the interest that embodies the Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques depends on the care of the two holy cities and the care of the two Holy Mosques.”

In the case of Madinah, the focus is on the city’s light system, improving its public realm with the least environmental impact through intelligently networked, modern, efficient and sustainable strategies that harmonize with the urban core and the mountain environment of the city.

For more than 1,500 years, since the Prophet Muhammad’s journey from Mecca brought it to prominence, the city formerly known as the Hijra has been a beloved place of peace and enlightenment, where ignorance and darkness were transformed into wisdom and light.

Known in the Arab world as “Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah”, it was the first capital of the Islamic world and is said to be the first place in the kingdom to have introduced electricity. Where better then to roll out this ambitious lighting project?

Changes like these are considered “smart city solutions” that will help the Kingdom to make its buildings, industries, infrastructure and facilities more sustainable in line with its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate waste.

Experts believe that when sustainable solutions like these are mixed into the existing environment, they make a significant contribution to the eco-performance of residential developments.

One of the key themes of Vision 2030 is to provide the means to create a vibrant society and put public well-being at the heart of development and planning decisions.

Cities designed in previous decades with outdated technologies are beginning to crack under the strain of population growth and failing to meet the Kingdom’s climate change and sustainability goals. Unless changes are made now, these challenges will only grow.

Interior shot taken at the AlMadinah Region Development Authority. (Hamza Mahmoud Hasan)

Lighting plays a crucial role in the transformation of buildings to meet the needs of modern life, combining aesthetics, functionality and efficiency in the delivery of optimal lighting in all areas to ensure the comfort and safety of the public.

Yazeed Alshaibani, a Saudi expert in interior lighting, compared the new developments in Madinah to another urban project that used light to communicate and convey emotions.

“For Noor Al-Riyadh, they used lighting designers from all over the world and projected the space with art and it was very attractive. Communication with lighting is a wonderful thing to do. Madinah is doing its own version with its own project,” said Alshaibani Arabic News.

From dawn to dusk, the area around the Prophet’s Mosque is alive with worshippers, many of whom stroll into the peaceful courtyard. Others scramble to enter the mosque to find every empty seat where they silently recite their prayers.

At 6 o’clock sharp, the area outside resembles synchronized white doves as the intricately decorated piazza umbrellas gracefully open, adding much-needed shade and a delicate tint of white light to the room. The light feels different when the first speck of sunlight paints the morning sky.

At night, the city is full of bright lights bursting from every building, while the way to the Prophet’s Mosque and the many surrounding back streets are lined with bright lights to provide a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Even the stars in the sky seem to compete for attention.

Alshaibani, who was involved in a lighting project at a mosque in Mecca, agrees that changing the lights in Madinah complements this unique atmosphere and further enhances the spiritual experience.

“The idea that Madinah is now using white lights to make people feel more awake and more focused is good,” Alshaibani said. “This kind of light helps worshipers read the Koran more easily.”


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