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Tall story

by Stuart Matthews on Jan 22, 2013

Stuart Matthews
Stuart Matthews

My office window looks out onto three of the four tallest buildings completed in 2012. It is an enviable view, though there are probably people in Guangzhou, China, who enjoy something similar.

I’ve watched this block of towers in Dubai’s Marina grow over several years, most closely since our own office moved nearby. As they emerged, we wrote about the clever engineering, the nifty design solutions, integrated FM plans, and, well, the height.

It has become a CW maxim that any ‘world’s tallest’ story will be a winner. It seems you, the reader, just can’t help yourselves, when it comes to a record breaking story.

Developers know this too and are always quick to point out a potential record; though you never hear them brag of the world’s tightest parking space, or shallowest pool.

Combined, the three buildings - Princess Tower, 23 Marina and Elite Residence - add up to 1186 metres of towering apartments. None are likely to win prizes for their good looks, although 23 Marina is growing on me, but the prize for being aesthetically-challenged must go to the tallest completed building of 2012.

The 601 metre Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel has attracted its fair share of controversy. It’s curious looks are one factor, but its location has drawn the most criticism.

Many see the development as out of step with the significance of its site, near the Grand Mosque. Despite the controversy, the fact remains that it, and the other structures on the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat list, represent significant engineering achievement.

That this achievement is happening in the Middle East speaks to the region’s continued ambition, with eight of the top 20 tallest buildings being completed here in 2012. It is also a useful reminder of the broad shift of landmark construction projects to the Middle East and Asia.

In these regions resources and demand have combined in recent decades to create hubs of engineering practice and innovation. Lessons learned on projects have seen innovations and improvements spread into the wider global construction industry.

Expertise is being passed on and spread further afield by the people who have been at the forefront of design and construction in the region. Joint ventures have allowed global players and regional giants to mix their skill sets, learning and teaching as they go.

World records pop up with regularity. More are under construction, planned, or being dreamt up. But the real achievement is in the knowledge being accumulated and distributed by the people doing the work.

It is something that will have a more enduring impact on the global construction industry than any world record. This achievement should be applauded at every opportunity.