Worlds tallest building….again

Does this vertical game of one-upmanship signal the end of the recession or is Gulf an exception to economic and social norms?

Plans have been unveiled for the worlds tallest building to be constructed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia under the auspices of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. No one outside of the inner circle knows the exact height, but the general consensus is that it will definitely trump the 830m Burj Khalifa in the neighbourhood. The architects Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and the project managers Mace will work together on the development with construction consultant EC Harris, and the new skyscraper will be constructed by Saudi construction firm the Bin Laden Group. The tower fits into a larger development of the ‘Kingdom City Development’ and aims to be the jewel in the crown of this ambitious and huge project.

Artist impression of the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, which aims to be the world's tallest building
There is certainly no lack of space in the Gulf region, neither is there an economic advantage to building upwards towards the heavens, but there has been a trend over the past 30 years to ignore horizontal expansion and go for the phallic manly structures in ever increasingly bizarre shapes and blindingly reflective materials.  The most obvious comparison is Manhattan island, but there in this instance there is a economic argument to build upwards, since there is no where to go sideways, but this just isn’t the case in the Gulf, in fact building upwards creates a whole host of problems, the higher you go the deeper the foundation structure has to go (very expensive), structural cores take an ever increasing chunk of the net floor plate area thus decreasing office/apartment yields (expensive), tectonic considerations, diurnal and seasonal temperature fluctuations (especially in the Middle East), air pressure differences, air traffic control considerations; the list becomes endless, but alas economic consideration isn’t the driving force behind these impressive feats of engineering, and environmental considerations definitely aren’t either (consider pumping a glass monster full of cooled air when the external temperature is between 40-50°C).
In a region that has witnessed significant economic change since the discovery of oil and gas under the dunes, there has been a frenzied attempt at catching up with a perception of the ‘civilised world’, unfortunately a very superficial and cosmetic copy and paste approach has been utilised that takes the ‘bling’ wow affect of tall structures as the be all and end all of ‘civilisation’, the development of tall cities in the ‘West’ clearly followed an economic and historic path, spacial considerations and geographical dictates, but the gulf region where these glorious buildings are situated is blessed with almost completely flat landscapes, well clear of any tectonic titalations (although just north of the Persian gulf there is potential for problem). In a well meaning attempt at moving their cities and societies forward, wholly inadequate and indulgent structures have littered the landscape, whilst visually impressive a vital opportunity at learning the lessons of environmental care, social/architectural planning and master planning have been deliberately ignored or just overlooked.

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