Real Estate & Construction

Touch the Sky

Kingdom Tower

At the cost of $1.2 billion, a group of prominent Saudi partners—Kingdom Holding, Abraar International Holding, Saudi Bin Laden Group, and Kelaa Jeddah—are looking to take the title of the […]

At the cost of $1.2 billion, a group of prominent Saudi partners—Kingdom Holding, Abraar International Holding, Saudi Bin Laden Group, and Kelaa Jeddah—are looking to take the title of the world’s tallest building from Dubai to the prominent Saudi port city of Jeddah. After years of design and planning, construction of Kingdom Tower is picking up steam, with the first six floors completed at the end of 2014. With the design calling for a height of over 1,000m, Kingdom Tower will eclipse the current titleholder, the Burj Khalifa, by almost 200m. The kilometer high tower will accommodate a whopping 167 occupied floors, including a Four Seasons Hotel, 318 various housing units, a wide array of mixed-use amenities, and the highest observation deck, positioned at 644m. The construction of the tower even required Germany’s Leibherr & Wolffkran to custom-build special cranes earlier this year, which are themselves record setters in terms of crane height. The largest crane has the capacity to lift 18 tons of construction materials at 44 meters per minute.

Such a monumental undertaking has required the developers to utilize the latest in many technological advances to overcome obstacles that had squashed previous projects around the world with similar ambitions. For example, the elevator system for a tower of such heights was only made possible due to new cabling technology from Finland’s Kone that would dramatically reduce the weight of 40 tons per car down to six. In total, Kingdom Tower will have 59 elevators, including four of the world’s fastest double-deckers, and even two triple-deckers.

Tinted glass and the latest in energy conservation technology in the exterior material were needed to maintain efficient energy usage and lower the tower’s thermal load, a particular concern given Saudi Arabia’s famous scorching heat. The tower itself is on an 85,000sqm plot of land, but it also acts as the centerpiece for the much larger and highly ambitious 5.3 million sqm “Kingdom City“ development project. Multipurpose buildings will make up 3.3 million sqm of this land. Other key features of Kingdom City include its own public transportation system, diplomatic quarter, commercial centers, sewage treatment facilities, and district cooling systems, which, according to the major stakeholders, will firmly establish Jeddah as a globally modern city.

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Al-Saud, currently the world’s richest Arab and Chairman of Kingdom Holding, estimated that Kingdom Tower and the Kingdom City project will create up to 50,000 jobs for Saudi nationals. Of course, a project of such magnitude has had its fair share of criticism. Some observers remain skeptical over the whole plan, arguing that enormous sums of money are being committed in what they consider an egotistical display rooted in the perceived indignity of having the world’s tallest building in a much smaller gulf Arab country. For others, parallels to the biblically tragic and ambitiously similar Tower of Babel are too easy to draw. Responding to these critiques, Prince Al-Waleed was quoted during the planning stages of project in 2011 as saying “Building this tower in Jeddah sends a financial and economic message that should not be ignored. It has a political depth to it, telling the world that we Saudis invest in our country.“

Indeed, the record-breaking Kingdom Tower will surely become a symbol of a new Jeddah and new Saudi Arabia. Whether or not this will equate to bringing in the high socioeconomic benefits promised during the unveiling of the project cannot be truly determined until its slated completion date of 2018, but until then, construction of the tower continues to march along.