A kilometre is better than nothing

What is it?

The conflicting media reports about the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, have finally been resolved. An announcement on Tuesday by Prince Alwaleed, nephew of the country’s King Abdullah, confirmed that a tower by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG) is to be built, though not to a height of 1 mile as originally rumoured, but a “mere” 1 kilometre.

The tower will still cost US$1.2 billion to build, and will comprise a hotel, serviced apartments, luxury condominiums, office space and the world’s highest observatory across 530,000sqm of floor area. It is part of the extensive Kingdom City project whose staggering 5.3 million square metre will total US$20 billion. AS+GG are in the process of assembling design development documents with contracts for sub-floor concreting works already let.

First seen on World Architecture News, here.

What do we think?

Saudi Arabia currently receives around three quarters of its budget revenue from its oil reserves. Thus it comes as no surprise that efforts are being made to diversify the economy via vast city-sized construction projects that will attempt to lure private industry from around the world. Indeed, AS+GG’s press statement on the Kingdom project states that “This tower symbolises the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] as an important global business and cultural leader… It represents new growth and high-performance technology fused into one powerful iconic form.”

On the subject of new growth, we are somewhat bemused to learn that AS+GG’s design inspiration for the tower is drawn from the folded fronds of young desert plant growth. Adrian Smith says, “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.” Far more appropriate is the image of a sword, thrusting as far into the sky (and away from natural growth) as it can get.

This project is anything but soft. Formally, politically and economically it is a calculated attempt to buffet Saudi Arabia from the inevitable effects of peak oil. A kilometre may not be a mile, but it is better than nothing – whether or not it will be successful in diversifying the Kingdom’s economy and attracting new forms of private investment remains to be seen.

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