Royal Mosque, King Khalid International Airport

Grand Mosque, KKIA, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (المسجد الكبير لمطار الملك خالد الدولي بالرياض)


In 1980, at the age of 27, Brian was commissioned by the Government of Saudi Arabia to design stained glass for the Royal Mosque (مسجد مطار الملك خالد) at King Khalid International Airport (KKIA). After making a study of Islamic ornament at the Quran schools in Fez, he designed and oversaw the fabrication of the 2,000 square metres of stained glass for the Koranic library and the office, and the clerestory, skylights and corner windows of the main devotional space, responding to what he calls “the sharp static immensity of the light” in the Middle East. Completed in 1982, and comprised of hundreds of windows, at the time of its execution the project was considered to be the largest and most technically advanced stained glass project of the modern period, requiring the full staff of four European stained glass studios working for a year to fabricate. The skylights, and the seven-foot band of clerestory windows, surround the dome, 33 metres in diameter and internally clad in polished brass, above the main space of the mosque, designed by Minoru Yamasaki and architectural practice HOK. The floor-to-ceiling ground-level windows transilluminate cool light into the mosque’s interior, and their gold finish – metal oxide fired into the molten glass – casts pools of warm reflected light out into the plaza around the mosque, where the virtuoso leading of the Islamic ornament creates a sculptural relief. The corner windows throughout the mosque, in blue and green, have central panels of carved, translucent Lebanese onyx, a technique and aesthetic solution that had never been used before. Each individual piece of mouth-blown glass in the three hundred and sixty windows was chosen by Brian himself, with much of it specially blown to his specification, and he was required to insure his hands for the total value of the project for the period in which he was designing the scheme and overseeing its fabrication. A sample panel of one of the skylight window sections is in the collection of the Deutsches Glasmalerei-Museum. The building was designed by architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata, Kassabaum, the architects of the airport, to accomodate 5000 worshippers.

“The windows at the Royal Mosque stand as a technological as well as artistic breakthrough in this art form. Set as they are in a series of panels around the perimeter of the large mosque’s dome and around its walls, they cast pools of cool blues and greens, pinpointed with ruby reds which bathe the vast interior in almost watery-liquid light.” – Mario Amaya in the essay 'Clarke’s New Constructivism', published in Studio International, 1982.

"Clarke’s stained glass can be seen as the result of a forty-year meditation on the modulation of light and colour. An abiding principle of his work in this medium stems from his grasp of the temporal, random character of natural light in constant flux, a phenomenon that is paramount in articulating and animating architectural designs. By 1980–81, in his clerestory windows for King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, he had also begun to exploit, with consummate subtlety, vagaries of tonal grading inherent in raw (pot metal) glass of the highest quality; he carefully selected the sheets of glass to achieve this effect, or when this was not feasible had them newly manufactured to his specifications. The shading within the substance of a single sheet of this coloured glass is comparable with the action of daylight, that is, the fluctuations between direct illumination from the sun or its diffusion through clouds. Clarke has explained on many occasions that the dynamism of natural light is a fundamental component of his stained glass; consequently he attends in detail to the orientation and environmental aspects of the location in which his pieces are to be viewed, and his disposition of different glasses aims to marshal and enhance the kinetic quality of the light transmitted. In this way the exterior, interpreted through the skin of the building, heightens the emotional impact of the ensemble." – art historian Martin Harrison in the 2012 essay 'Silence and Tumult: The Art of Brian Clarke'.