The Kingdom beckons

Phase One of Kingdom City is the opening gambit for Jeddah's revival

Kingdom Tower has raised a pointed debate about super-tall buildings.
Kingdom Tower has raised a pointed debate about super-tall buildings.

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When the news broke that the construction contract for the Kingdom Tower had been awarded to the Saudi Binladin Group, there was an atmosphere of palpable excitement in the office, a sense of a historic moment.

Therefore we were rather surprised when the first reader comments on the story were largely negative. Indeed, we were hard-pressed to find any positive reader reaction at all.

This set a general trend, and all the comments seemed to hone in on common issues: while readers generally acknowledged that this mammoth project would be a huge fillip for the construction industry and the economy in general, people seemed to be non-plussed at the socio-economic rationale behind the project.

There seems to be a general misunderstanding that Kingdom Tower is a standalone project, designed solely to be the tallest building in the world upon its completion (how long the construction process will take, and its timing in comparison to the World Cup in Qatar, which in itself will place considerable demands on the construction supply chain in the region, is also cause for much speculation.)

The initial press release issued by the Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) focused, of course, on the attention-grabbing fact that, a few years after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was commissioned successfully, its claim to being the world’s tallest building was already being challenged.

What has made the Burj Khalifa in Dubai such a tourist magnet is Downtown Dubai. This development was stopped in its tracks by the downturn, but Emaar is forging ahead in the full knowledge that the more value it adds to this area in terms of infrastructure, the more successful the Burj Khalifa itself will be.

Similarly, Kingdom Tower is merely the first phase of a massive $20bn urban project known as Kingdom City. The project up property prices in Jeddah; inking the construction contract will no doubt lead to a further spike.

KHC states that Kingdom Tower will be both an “economic engine and a proud symbol of the Kingdom’s economic and cultural status in the world community.”
The Saudi government has already committed considerable resources to a concerted infrastructure spending programme, especially in terms of social housing, roads, power and water.

Citi Investment Research & Analysis reports that the Kingdom has a project pipeline valued at $220bn, accounting for 36% of the total construction spend in the MENA region. One only has to recount such recent mega projects as KAUST and Princess Noura University to comprehend the scale of this plan.

Clearly Kingdom City represents the next step. Some readers are concerned that Saudi is adopting what has been termed the ‘Dubai model’, in terms of building world-first landmarks and then hoping the tourists will flood in.

Dubai has clearly shown that national identity, culture and religion can be balanced with a Western outlook. Saudi’s cautious approach to maintaining its own identity, and ensuring that the social compact with its people is strengthened by vigorous infrastructure spending and enlistment, bodes well for its future. It is going to be fascinating to watch this development unfold over the next few years.

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