Cash only obstacle to 1.5-mile high tower - expert

Middle East was planning a 1.5 mile high tower four years ago before the financial crisis
Cash only obstacle to 1.5-mile high tower - expert
Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower, the 1km-tall superscraper, is backed by Kingdom Holdings, the investment firm owned by Saudi Prince Alwaleed.
By Shane McGinley
Wed 19 Sep 2012 11:02 AM

Money is the only obstacle to building the first mile-high skyscraper, a leading building design expert said, revealing that a firm in the Middle East planned to build a 1.5 mile (2.4km) high supertower four years ago before the global recession saw the idea shelved.

“If you have enough money, I’m sure the human mind can create a lot higher,” Timothy Johnson, an architect and chairman of the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, told Bloomberg. “Who are we to say it’s good or bad? People want to push higher and higher. That’s just human nature, isn’t it?”

Johnson claimed a Middle East developer was all set to launch a tower with a height of 1.5 miles. While the technology had been researched to make this possible, the plan by the unnamed developer was scuppered when the region was hit by the real estate downturn, which saw property prices slump by up to 60 percent and around half of projects stalled or canceled.

Dubai is already home to the world’s tallest tower – the 829m high Burj Khalifa – which was unveiled by Emaar Properties in January 2010.

Rival developer Nakheel, famous for its palm-shaped manmade islands, launched the Nakheel Harbour and Tower project at the height of the property boom, which was reported to be 1km high and have around 200 floors, but this has been on hold since 2009.

The next rival to Dubai’s title is Jeddah’s Kingdom Tower, the 1km-tall superscraper backed by Kingdom Holdings, the investment firm owned by Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed.

A subsidiary of the firm has signed a US$1.2bn deal with Binladin Group to construct the tower, which Prince Alwaleed described as “transformational”.

Last year, Bob Sinn, a principal at engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, said the key hurdles behind the Jeddah tower are practical, rather than structural.

“Kingdom Tower is certainly feasible. It’s not a structural challenge. Technically I think a 2km-tall tower could be done, but I don’t think it will be done anytime soon,” he told Arabian Business’ sister title, Middle East Architect.

“At extreme heights, the main challenges are along practical and architectural lines, not material or structural. The elevators take up a lot of the floor plate and it becomes more difficult to transport materials to the top.”

Initial designs for the Kingdom Tower, show a mixed-used building featuring a Four Seasons hotel, an observation deck and office space, served by 59 elevators.

While Johnson said money was the only obstacle to building a mile-high tower, a leading architect who worked on Burj Khakifa said Kingdom Tower will be cheaper to build than the Dubai tower.

The Saudi tower is likely to cost US$1.2bn to build, the company said in a statement, a significant drop from the Burj Khalifa’s US$1.5bn price tag

"The original construction contract [for the Burj Khalifa] was negotiated with the JV of Samsung Engineering, Besix and Arabtec in January 2005 for US$1bn," said Eric Tomich, the architect behind the Burj Khalifa.

“All the big stuff was in, so at the end the building probably cost US$1.5bn to US$1.6bn, which still I think is pretty good value.”

Designer Adrian Smith, who helped plan the Burj Khalifa while with architect firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, said the Middle East’s cut-price labour costs would be a key element in the more than 1km-tall tower’s US$1.2bn price tag.

“In the Middle East you have very inexpensive labour, and they work three shifts, so they keep going all around the clock. That helps keep the construction cost low here,” he said.

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