Kingdom Tower to Set New Skyscraper Records … For Now

By: | December 1st, 2013

Last June, we touched on the construction of Sky City in Changsha, China, a towering structure that will peak at 838 meters high. Nearing its completion, the engineers and architects are already hailing it a success as the world’s highest building. However, the party may be over before it’s even started, thanks to Saudi Arabia.

Kingdom Tower is a 1000 meter high skyscraper that has entered development in the city of Jeddah. It’s a staggering height to even comprehend but the $1.23 billion project is very much real and part of a wider $20 billion development of Jeddah, called Kingdom City.

The cloud piercing tower, which began construction in April and was even scaled down from 1.6km, will serve myriad uses, such as office and corporate spaces, residential blocks, hotels (Four Seasons, no less) and retail. Much like Sky City, it will be like a town contained within a building and with a unique view over the Red Sea.

Its engineering challenge is largely undeniable but the construction has the firm backing of Kingdom Holding Company, the investment company that has interests in Citigroup, News Corporation and Twitter amongst several others.

So far, development is being hailed as a success but it’s also facing some concerns within engineering circles who question the practicality of going so high. Thornton Tomasetti, one of the engineers involved in Kingdom Tower’s construction, commented that “at extreme heights, the main challenges are along practical and architectural lines, not material or structural.” Worries have been raised about the strength of elevators that will be needed to work on such an ambitious undertaking.

Kingdom Tower and other vast towering structures like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai could also be called mere symbols of wealth and “look, mine’s bigger” mentalities, rather than serving a productive infrastructural purpose. While Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family and wealthy businessman, has been a supporter of the tower stating that it will “send a message of strength” in Saudi Arabia, it is intended to diversify the country’s economy from crude oil before it eventually dries up.

Currently, the Burj Khalifa holds the honor of the world’s tallest building at 823 meters. Although it only opened in 2010, the reign appears to be brief for the tower whose window cleaning procedure takes three months to be completed by 11 people.

The short-lived accolade of highest building is a common theme, as governments, corporations and engineers are always looking to build the next big thing. It’s why the Sky City, due for completion in 2014 or 2015, will bask in the glory for only a short time as Jeddah’s Kingdom Tower is penned for a 2019 completion. It begs the question; just how much higher can we possibly go?

Jonathan Keane

Irish journalist writing on business, tech and engineering.

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