In 1980, Brian Clarke was commissioned by the Government of Saudi Arabia to design stained glass for the Royal Mosque at King Khalid International Airport (KKIA). The building was designed by the architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum and can accommodate up to 5,000 worshippers.
After studying Islamic ornament at the Quran schools in Fez, he designed and oversaw the fabrication of the 2,000 square metres of stained glass which decorated the skylights and corner windows of the main devotional space, including a Quranic library, an office and a clerestory. Clarke’s overall programme responded 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. The project required the full staff of four European stained glass studios, working over a whole year.
The skylights and the seven-foot band of clerestory windows surround the dome which measures 33 metres in diameter. The floor-to-ceiling windows on the ground level transilluminate light into the mosque’s interior, and their gold finish, produced with metal oxide fired into the molten glass, casts light out into the plaza around the mosque.
The corner windows 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 360 windows was chosen by Clarke himself, with much of it made to his specification.