JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Apr 30 Sky’s the limit? When it comes to one-upping your neighbour, apparently it’s not. After years of planning, construction begins this week, on a 3,280-foot-tall (one kilometre) skyscraper in Saudi Arabia. When it’s completed, the building will set the Guinness record for world’s tallest skyscraper, dethroning neighbouring Dubai, UAE’s 2,715-foot-tall (827 metres) Burj Khalifa skyscraper, which has held the record since 2010.
The heaven-scraping building, which is being raised in the Red Sea coast city of Jeddah, comes with an appropriate moniker: the Kingdom Tower. The structure is part of a concerted effort to make Saudi Arabia a top tourist destination. Mounib Hammoud, the chief of Jeddah Economic Company, told Arab News that “people go to Dubai now, but once the project is ready they would like to stay in Saudi Arabia.”
To give you an idea of how massive the latest building will be, the tower’s height is the equivalent of 2.3 of North America’s tallest skyscraper, Willis Tower in Chicago, stacked end to end. Constructing this puppy doesn’t come cheap either. It’s estimated that building the 200-floor skyscraper will cost upwards of $1.23 billion. That’s more than the GDP of countries such as the Solomon Islands, or Antigua and Barbuda. It’ll suck up plenty of natural resources too: 5.7 million square feet of concrete and 80,000 tonnes of steel will be needed to build the tower.
While that’s a massive expenditure of resources, the architects and planners behind the tower envision a mixed-use space that’ll potentially serve tens of thousands of people. Along with offices and the world’s highest observatory, the Kingdom Tower will be home to a Four Seasons hotel and a slew of luxury apartments. If you have the cash to buy the to-be-priced (but you know it’ll cost big bucks) 157th-floor penthouse terrace, you’ll get gorgeous views of the Red Sea and the surrounding city.
In 2011, when the building was first proposed, it was estimated that an elevator ride to the top would take a whopping 12 minutes. Fortunately for our claustrophobic sensibilities, the most recent plans indicate that at least some of the tower’s 58 elevators will run on an express basis, meaning you can zoom to the top in less than two minutes.
That said, we have the same questions we had back then: Is a building of this height really safe? In the event of an emergency, using the express elevators would be out of the question, making the possibility of having to quickly descend from that height by foot seem pretty nightmarish. At what point is a building too tall? When we start having to wear oxygen masks to work or live in it?
As for Saudi Arabia’s hopes to steal Dubai’s crown, that nation’s Gulf News dismissed that idea in a recent op-ed, noting that ”given the nature of Saudi tourism, there is no way that Kingdom Tower, or any other landmark in the region, can deliver the “unique” experience that Burj Khalifa offers.”
When it says “unique” it’s referring to the tower’s inclusion in the 2011 film Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. Tom Cruise famously dangled from the top of Burj Khalifa. Indeed, says the paper, “Burj Khalifa is the ultimate destination for adventurers, who want to try out crazy ideas.” But watch out, Dubai, Cruise can always revisit his Ethan Hunt character. Come 2018 we might just see him hang gliding from the top of the Kingdom Tower.