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Place: Saudi Arabia

Story: Planned Kingdom Tower to be worlds highest

Taking the ‘world’s tallest’ title from its Gulf neighbor Dubai, Saudi Arabian capital Jeddah will soon be home to the world’s tallest tower, to be named the Kingdom Tower.

Saudi Arabia took a key step forward last week in its plan to outdo Dubai, which inaugurated its own record-breaking skyscraper less than two years ago.

The Saudis awarded a more than $1 billion contract for a spire that will soar two-thirds of a mile high.

The plans make Saudi Arabia a front-runner in the race between the oil-rich Gulf nations for glitzy, architectural trophies that dot their desert territories with glimmering skyscrapers and elaborate, man-made islands. The projects are seen as status symbols to show off both economic success and cultural sophistication.

Kingdom Holding Co., the investment firm headed by billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, said it signed a 4.2 billion riyal ($1.2 billion) deal with the Saudi Binladen Group to build Kingdom Tower on the outskirts of the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

“The decision of the partners to build the world’s tallest building further demonstrates their belief in investing in this nation,” said Talal Al Maiman, a board member of KHC and the Jeddah Economic Co, a KHC-affiliate that signed the deal with the Binladen Group.

“We intend Kingdom Tower to become both an economic engine and a proud symbol of the Kingdom’s economic and cultural stature in the world community,” said Al Maiman. “We envision Kingdom Tower as a new iconic marker of Jeddah’s historic importance as the traditional gateway to the holy city of Mecca.”

“Building this tower in Jeddah sends a financial and economic message that should not be ignored,” Prince Alwaleed told reporters. “It has a political depth to it to tell the world that we Saudis invest in our country despite what is happening around us from events, turmoil and revolutions even.”

The venture is also seen as a key part of Saudi ambitions to keep growth healthy by diversifying its economic base away from the crude oil that has fueled the economy for decades.

In June 2009, KHC signed a deal with Dubai-based Emaar Properties to develop and oversee the construction of Kingdom City and Kingdom Tower.

Emaar, which is partly owned by Dubai’s government, is the developer of the tallest building in the world Burj Khalifa.

‘Sleek form’

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, a Chicago architectural firm, has been selected to design the Kingdom Tower, which will feature a Four Seasons hotel, serviced apartments, Class A office space, luxury condominiums and the world’s highest observatory.

When completed, the 1,000-meter-plus (3,280-foot-plus) tower would replace the 828-meter (2,716-foot) Burj Khalifa as the tallest tower in the world.

The tower is the first phase of the planned Kingdom City, a sprawling, $20 billion, two-square mile urban development project first announced in 2008 as the global financial crisis was squeezing world markets.

“With its slender, subtly asymmetrical massing, the tower evokes a bundle of leaves shooting up from the ground—a burst of new life that heralds more growth all around it,” said Smith in a statement. The sleek, streamlined form of the tower was inspired by the folded fronds of young desert plant growth.

“The way the fronds sprout upward from the ground as a single form, then start separating from each other at the top, is an analogy of new growth fused with technology,” added Gordon Gill.

In addition, each of the tower’s three sides features a series of notches that create pockets of shadow that shield areas of the building from the sun and provide outdoor terraces with stunning views of Jeddah and the Red Sea. The complex will contain 59 elevators, including 54 single-deck and five double-deck elevators, along with 12 escalators. Elevators serving the observatory will travel at a rate of 10 meters per second in both directions.

It is one of several ambitious mega-ventures in the kingdom, OPEC’s top exporter.

Saudi has been planning on a number of major economic cities that would help create tens of thousands of new jobs as the country tries to ease its reliance on foreign workers in the professional fields. It spent billions of dollars on a new science and technology university that they hope will become the hub for scientific and technological development in the Gulf.

Ripples

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, one seven semi-autonomous sheikdoms making up the United Arab Emirates, opened in January 2010 as the emirate was mired in a financial crisis stemming from billions of dollars in debts accrued from years of cheap credit and easy financing.

Alwaleed’s proposed skyscraper would shatter the record for Burj Khalifa, which has 160 livable floors and includes a boutique Armani hotel.

Maybe it is right to say as of now that the battle of the ‘tallest tower’ is still on, with the planned Kingdom Tower overtaking Burj Khalifa, which had overtaken the Taipei 101.

Sources: huffingtonpost, msnbc, emirates 24|7

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