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Kingdom Come?
Saudis ask Chicagoans to design the world's tallest tower.
Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Tower will anchor Jeddah's new waterfront development.
Courtesy AS + GG

While Frank Lloyd Wright’s mile high skyscraper exists only on paper, Chicago architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill have been commissioned to design a kilometer high skyscraper for real in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which will be the world’s tallest building. The Kingdom Tower aims to be a new landmark for the city, providing a focal point for its new waterfront district that the firm also is master planning.

The math is tricky: The 1,000 meter building will rise with 163 occupied floors reaching about 650 meters, with an additional 100 meters set aside for a possible pendulum mass dampener (to prevent the building from swaying), and the remaining 250 meters will be all spire. Housing office space on 300,000 square feet of the lower floors, the tower continues with seven floors of hotel rooms, more than 100 floors of residential units, and two sky lobbies. The 125th and 126th floors will feature an observation deck, while the 157th floor will boast a projecting sky terrace for the “super penthouses” at the very top levels.

Left to right: The Kingdom Tower's Sky Terrace; Smith and Gill are master planners for the surrounding area; the tower will be a kilometer high.

Jeddah serves as a gateway to the Mecca pilgrimage route, so the developers expect it to appeal to wealthy buyers from across the Muslim world. “It’s also a resort area. Half the year it feels like California,” Smith said. Some of the penthouses may be up to six stories, which Smith believes could be of interest to very large families, not uncommon among Saudi Arabia’s elite.

The Burj Khalifa, the current world’s tallest title-holder, is a series of bundled tubes, which step down 27 times. The design, also by Smith during his tenure at SOM Chicago, helped mitigate the massive wind loads associated with super tall buildings. The Kingdom Tower, by contrast, will feature angled sides, which Smith believes will be even better at shedding wind loads. The building is Y-shaped in plan with a triangular core. Thorton Tomasetti is the project’s engineering firm.

Left to right: Street level at the Kingdom Tower; the tower's base on the waterfront; the Kingdom Tower and surrounding waterfront.

In addition to the tower, Smith and Gill are also designing an adjacent one million-square-foot shopping center and are planning the waterfront district that will include twelve other buildings. “With projects like this, you gain international attention. They give an identity to the city, and often become a symbol for the entire country,” Smith said. The firm prevailed over SOM Chicago, KPF, Pickard Chilton, Pelli Clarke Pelli, and Foster and Partners to design the 5.7 million-square-foot tower. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, nephew of King Abdulla, and Jeddah Economic Company, are developing the project along with several other partners.

Alan G. Brake