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Saudi Arabia Begins Construction of World’s Tallest Building – The Kingdom Tower


Mine is bigger than yours is!

1,000 meters, or 3,280 feet. That’s two-thirds of a mile.

When the Kingdom Tower is built on the outskirts of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia it will not only become the tallest building in the world, it will shatter the old record. The current record-holder, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, stands at 828 meters. At least 173 meters (568 feet) taller, sight-seers on the tower’s observation deck could see how long it takes for their spit to hit the top of Burj Khalifa (this is, if they weren’t hundreds of miles apart). The tallest building in the US, Chicago’s Willis Tower, is 442 meters tall, or 527 meters if you count the antenna. The One World Trade Center tower currently being built in New York will climb, including antenna, to 541 meters.

Not merely a mine-is-bigger-than-yours jibe to their neighbors, the tower is a part of an economic initiative to strengthen Saudi Arabia’s economy by diversifying away from crude oil. For those with the means, the Kingdom Tower will be the poshest of the posh. It features a Four Seasons hotel, Four Seasons serviced apartments, luxury condominiums, top class office space and the world’s highest observatory. Total construction area is 530,000 square meters (5.7 million square feet). Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, a Chicago-based architecture firm, won the contract for the Kingdom Tower earlier this week. Smith already has experience with designing tallest buildings in the world. He designed Burj Khalifa while at another architecture firm. The final details of Kingdom Tower’s design are yet to be worked out, but construction is to begin immediately. The total cost for the tower is approximately $1.2 billion.

Now that’s some prime real estate.

The winning design by AS+GG is a stunning amalgam of desert, new growth, and technology themes. The tower’s sleek shape resembles a bundle of three folded fronds shooting up anew from the desert. The symbolism – in addition to the tower’s unmatched height – sends a message. One of the tower’s investors, Al Maimam, explains in Forbes, “We intend Kingdom Tower to become both an economic engine and a proud symbol of the Kingdom’s economic and cultural stature in the world community. We envision Kingdom Tower as a new iconic marker of Jeddah’s historic importance as the traditional gateway to the holy city of Mecca.”

AS+GG collaborated with interdisciplinary experts to design the “elegant, cost-efficient and highly constructible design.” Innovative technologies will be used to maximize energy efficiency. An example is the outer walls of the tower, designed to minimize heating in the desert sun and thus save cooling costs. Additionally, pockets of shadow will be created by a series of notches on each of the tower’s three sides. The notches will serve to not only shield areas from the sun, but to also support terraces with spectacular views of Jeddah and the Red Sea. The importance of the tower’s three-pedal footprint lies not only in its symbolism, but their tapered shape deflects the desert wind and decreases wind stress to the building.

Tower residents and visitors will occupy 160 floors within the tower. This includes a penthouse floor at level 157 with its own sky terrace so its extra special residents can step out for some top-of-the-world fresh air. Yeah, how can I get an invite to that party? Commoners who can’t afford a Kingdom Tower penthouse can still enjoy the highest observation deck in the world.

The Kingdom Tower’s unprecedented height requires an unprecedented elevator technology to get people safely and timely up and down the three-quarters of a mile distance. Carrying the burden will be a total of 59 elevators – 54 single-deck and five double-deck elevators. The elevators that service the observation deck will travel 10 meters per second. Hopefully they’ve fixed the kinks that caused a scare in Burj Khalifa’s elevator shaft.

The tower is the initial phase and centerpiece of Kingdom City, a development project for the Kingdom City, a $20 billion initiative to develop this area of Jeddah. The area surrounding the tower will be the Kingdom Tower Waterfront District. Also designed by AS+GG, this 23-hectare area will include residential and business buildings, a high-end shopping mall, as well as a lavish outdoor spaces and other amenities. It will be a “cohesive and pedestrian-friendly setting for Kingdom Tower while creating a pleasant neighborhood experience along the Kingdom City lakefront.”

Based on the artistic renderings, it’s clear that the Kingdom Tower will be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. There are some, however, for whom the growth that the tower symbolizes is less vegetative, more phallic. Some refer to an unspoken competition between oil-rich Gulf nations to be the biggest and the baddest. Saud Masud, financial analyst at Rasmala bank, defended the tower in the Wall Street Journal: “The critics will say it’s unnecessary when resources may be deployed for other much needed development and infrastructure. However as a symbolic undertaking this project may carry merit. Saudi is the largest economy in the Middle East with a need for socioeconomic advancement and development. The tower may reflect inspiration to that effect.” Saudi’s billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said “Building this tower in Jeddah sends a financial and economic message that should not be ignored. It has a political depth to it to tell the world that we Saudis invest in our country.” The deputy editor of The Architects’ Journal, Rory Olcayto, disagrees, telling the Mirror, “The race to build the highest skyscraper is quite futile – where do you stop? These buildings are a symbol of an old-fashioned way of thinking.”

The Kingdom Tower will take 63 months to complete. The $1.2 billion cost is being bankrolled by the Kingdom Holding Co. investment firm headed by Prince Alwaleed. Among investors is the Binladen Group, the Saudi construction giant owned by the family of Osama bin Laden.

The sky’s the limit takes on new meaning when you’re looking down from a kilometer above. What today seems unnecessary and ostentatious to some could very well be tomorrow’s norm. If buildings like Kingdom Tower do become the norm it’ll probably happen first in Persian Gulf countries with money to burn.

[image credits: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and the Mirror]
image 1: Kingdom Tower
images: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

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