READING TIME: 6 MINUTES
(Source: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture)
The future tallest building in the world, Jeddah Tower, is set to reach unprecedented heights once it is topped out in 2020, at a whopping 1km (3280 ft) above sea level. Set in Jeddah, dubbed the most ‘open city’ in Saudi Arabia, the future tallest building in the world is set to reach unprecedented heights once it is topped out in 2020, at a whopping 1km (3280 ft) above sea level. I have been following the progress of Jeddah Tower very closely over the past few years, and although construction has recently been halted temporarily (due to the primary contractor being arrested as part of the 2017 Saudi Arabian purge), I hope that it resumes soon enough.
Designed by architectural firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, who brought the Burj Khalifa vision to life, the tower is poised to be a national icon symbolising the wealth and prosperity of the nation. It will, therefore, form the centrepiece of a $20 billion regeneration scheme in the area, known as the Jeddah Economic City, designed to boost tourism. It is the latest addition in a list of ‘mega-talls’* elevating the status of a skyscraper not just as a building with amenities for the public to enjoy but as a full-blown tourist destination. For a country that has relied on oil reserves for decades to fuel its economy, branching out to new industries is a sensible choice.
To begin with, let’s not forget that the Arabian Peninsula, upon which Jeddah is situated, possesses an arid, harsh desert climate. The subsurface of the land, on which the Jeddah Tower is being built, therefore deserves closer inspection. The area, once flowing with rivers and lush vegetation now has sand as the primary component of its topography. Silty sand, followed by meters of coralline limestone, mudstone and finally, sandstone – hundreds of meters deep – help set the foundations in place. Next, come the tall columns of concrete – many over 100 meters in height- that fulfil the three-winged design of the tower, a direct replica of Smith’s own Burj Khalifa. They are needed to stabilise the subsurface to meet design parameters.
The aim is to get these piles to support the tower up to 650-670 metres, after which it transitions into a 330m closed spire that pushes the height to the 1km+ mark. Each ‘winged column’ terminates at a different height reinforcing the sloped-exterior design of the tower, helping to reduce wind loads compared to the “stepped” style of the Burj. It is simply not feasible to have a tower that tall, with a four-sided base as it would not be structurally capable to hold itself. Not to mention, the structure is already under immense pressure as it is which means the core of the building will comprise of several thick metres of concrete.
Specific notches in the building are engineered to shade certain areas of the building from the scorching sun. In a desert climate like Jeddah, where people tend to stay indoors in the extreme heat, it is important that there are measures in place to avoid direct exposure to the sun. It has had to go through several changes in design, including scaling down, as the geology of the area would prove unsuitable for a tower that tall. However, the Saudis are not phased and are ambitious in creating a view for the visitor, akin to that of a traveller in the desert, gazing at the tower like an open palm in a mirage. A spectacular sight with its angular design greeting Hajj pilgrims making their way towards Mecca, it would be a modern marvel combining themes of the desert and technology.
Jeddah Tower will boast three observatories at different points of the building, including the world’s highest observation deck on the 157th floor (644 meters above sea level). 54 lifts and 2 double-decker lifts will travel at nearly 10m/s (any faster would cause nausea) offering visitors a spectacular view of the landscape before them. Offering panoramic views of the Red Sea, a significant feature of the tower is the outdoor ‘sky terrace’. Originally envisioned to be a helipad, it is now a private amenity for the occupant of the penthouse at the top levels of the building. This is clearly an exercise of opulence and a display of wealth which further amplifies the nature of the building’s purpose: ‘Let’s show the world how successful we are’.
The tower’s design, evoking a desert plant shooting up from the ground and gradually unfurling its leaves, is a deliberate reference to the development that is to grip Jeddah in the next 3-5 years. Many have welcomed and lauded it’s aesthetic, and what it will mean for the international reputation of Saudi Arabia, which is still viewed as a backward country from a human rights perspective. International attention on the country with the onslaught of major developments in place can only signify a positive push towards gentrification. It has made me consider how much higher can skyscrapers go? With Burj Khalifa and now, Jeddah Tower setting the precedent for mega-talls in the world, the next generation of architects should feel empowered to believe that their designs may one day change the way we live.
At the same time, I believe that the current economic climate of financial security, in which the tower is being built, needs to be approached from that of caution as well. History has shown that many of the world’s most famous projects have been constructed on the eve of financial collapse. The Empire State Building during the Great 1931 Depression and Burj Khalifa during the 2008 Recession are perfect examples. The tower could potentially experience short-term difficulties attracting tenants for office space and apartments, but it could financially fare well in the long-term. Many international human rights groups have condemned the UAE’s treatment of migrant workers, many from India and Bangladesh who died during construction of the Burj. Saudis need to be aware of how their treatment of migrant workers plays out on the global stage, especially when a tower of this magnitude that demands press attention is considered. Overall, I am excited to see what the next 3 years holds for the tower, (it is expected to be completed by 2021) and how something unimaginable just a few years ago is now a reality to be admired.
* Mega-tall skyscraper – structures over 600m in height