There has been a considerable media buzz over the recent Saudi announcement that work to build the a kilometre tall Kingdom Tower in Jeddah is set to start within a few days. The regional media, in particular, is celebrating the prospect of the new tower deposing Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest skyscraper.
According to the project consultants, the Saudi tower would be 3,280 feet high compared to the 2,716 for Burj Khalifa’s. The Kingdom Tower would have 200 floors overlooking the Red Sea. Estimates say building such a structure would require 80,000 tonnes of steel and would cost over $1.23 billion.
A structure taller than Burj Khalifa is not technologically impossible, although the proposed Saudi skyscraper will pose new challenges due to its proximity to the coast and therefore the potential damage to steel from the salt water. The foundation, which will be 200 meters deep, will itself be vulnerable to sea water corrosion.
Tests are reportedly under way to determine the strength of materials to be used. Also, ways in which concrete can be pumped to the required heights are being ascertained. It can be safely assumed that new advancements might succeed in coming up with the right solutions.
But success on these fronts does not mean that the Kingdom Tower will be able to match the iconic Dubai landmark in all that it has become famous for around the world. Burj Khalifa is much more than a structure; it is the quintessence of Dubai, which can hardly be captured in steel and concrete. It has come to represent an approach and an attitude that can only be expected of a place like Dubai.
It is the most popular tourist attraction in Dubai, with a record number of 1.87 million people visiting last year. This works out to an average of over 156,000 visitors every month. The 2013 figures were nearly 15 per cent higher compared to the previous year.
Burj Khalifa has become the perfect addition to Dubai’s appeal as a leisure and entertainment destination, with Downtown Dubai transforming into the most happening place in the city. Whether it is the fireworks, light and sound shows, musical events or the special shows that are held from time to time, the arena has always something to offer to everyone, with all the shopping options to boot. As the official promo claims, a ‘centre of now’.
The icon is the inspiration behind innumerable creatives by advertising and marketing professionals. It serves as an ideal backdrop for film crews, an attribute dramatised by the filming of Tom Cruise recent ‘Mission Impossible’ instalment. Burj Khalifa is the ultimate destination for adventurers who want to try out crazy ideas.
In fact, when pictures of Tom Cruise being filmed sitting atop Burj Khalifa’s tallest structure were published, social media was abuzz with the claim that it was Photoshop trick rather than a real shoot. Such were the incredible feats performed on and around it.
The tallest tower in Saudi Arabia certainly has its own touristic value. Tourism is already a major industry for the kingdom. But given the nature of Saudi tourism, there is no way that Kingdom Towers, or any other landmark in the region, can deliver the unique experience that Burj Khalifa offers.
That is the guarantee against the Dubai landmark losing its charm as an urban masterpiece. As things stand today, chances are for this reputation getting fortified rather than weakened.