By Louie Helm

Bigger is better. At least, that’s what they’re saying about their skyscrapers in the Middle East these days. And for the new Kingdom Tower going up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, they appear to be right.

The View from atop Kingdom Tower might just outweigh any troubles they might come across during construction.
The View from atop Kingdom Tower might just outweigh any troubles they might come across during construction.

Once completed, this tower will be the tallest man-made structure ever created — a staggering 1 mile high (1,600 meters) and covering a massive 3.5 million square meters. This is double the height of the current tallest man-made structure, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

A building like this even being seriously considered is an excellent sign of things to come for future technology. Specifically, the advances needed to create this kind of structure are cutting edge enough to require advances in design, materials, and new construction techniques that could revolutionize several aspects of modern architecture and design. But as I discuss later, there remain several potential stumbling blocks to it’s construction and operation as well.

Currently, many people in the know are skeptical of the plan. Several have dismissed it as “unrealistic”, “impractical”, or simply “unnecessarily tall”.

The official building plans call for the tower to cover a massive 3.5 million square meters, approximately 20 kilometers north of Jeddah city centre. A city will be constructed around the tower sprawling over an additional 23 million square meters as well. The $26.6 billion project will be able to accommodate 80,000 people and have hospitality facilities catering as many as 1 million visitors too.

Of course, problems are destined to arise and can already be foreseen. Being the tallest building in the world is never easy. The next tallest, the Burj Khalifa, while only half the size, has experienced multiple construction delays due to electricity issues and elevators problems.

Even if the elevator system runs smoothly, getting people from the bottom, up top, and back down again in an efficient manner will be an epic feat. A mile is an unfathomable distance to ride in an elevator. Just imagine if you had to wait for it as it stopped on every floor on it’s way down to pick you up? Or if the elevator got packed before you could get in. With the average elevator traveling at 150 meters per minute it would take around 12 minutes to get from bottom to top. High speed elevators seem to be the way to go as they can travel 500 meters in just one minute.

This sort of elevator apparently is just as comfortable to ride in as the normal elevators despite the high speeds. This is fast enough to be able to go from bottom to top in roughly 5 minutes. These elevators are already being used in the Taipei Financial Center and the Burj Khalifa.

Also, despite what a marvel of technology the tower is, what sort of effect will it have on its surrounding area? The desert location will need all construction materials and disposable resources shipped in and the resulting transportation costs will waste more resources and cause more environmental damage than if this project had been constructed in a larger, more established urban center. It’s an extravagant creation and one can only hope the tradeoffs are worth it for the future residents and surrounding areas.

Many have had their doubts about the project and there will be many obstacles, but the builders are still optimistic. Although, this optimism was all before the recent turmoil in the Middle East. Whether or not that will have an effect on the tower’s construction remains to be seen. The ongoing state of the Saudi Arabian government’s control is probably the biggest question mark hanging over the project right now.

So even though some may see the construction of these super-high towers as only a glorified race to the top by some of the world’s richest men, I think you still have to admire the gusto of the project. They aren’t trying to eke out a new world record by building their new tower a tiny bit taller than the last. Instead, they’re straight doubling the current record.

Also, remember that the Burj Khalifa was completed less than 18 months ago. Hmm… building sizes doubling every 18 months? Doesn’t that sound like exponential growth to any of you? No no no… just kidding! Though encouraging in it’s own right, it’s certainly not a trend we should extrapolate into the future. Construction is not an information technology (yet!).  Materials and design advances over the past decade have allowed us to imagine grand projects like this, which seemed almost unimaginable only a few short years ago.  Still it may be several years until Jeddah Tower is fully constructed, if ever.. But with the project supposedly still given the go ahead, we definitely have some exciting developments in “exponentially increasing” building size to look forward to.