Fit for a Kingdom

Plans to build the world's tallest tower in Jeddah are progressing

THE KINGDOM TOWER The planned centrepiece of Kingdom City, 20km north of Jeddah, soaring 1,000 metres into the sky.
THE KINGDOM TOWER The planned centrepiece of Kingdom City, 20km north of Jeddah, soaring 1,000 metres into the sky.

It’s been a long road since it was first announced but now work is underway to build The Kingdom Tower, which will make Saudi Arabia home to the tallest building in the world. Gary Wright looks back at the progress of the project over six years.

It must be a bit galling if you are one of the Saudi team involved in bringing the Kingdom Tower from the architect’s page to reality.

After all when plans for a new city north of Jeddah were discussed few could have forecast the financial crisis that was set to engulf the world.

As plans for the new Kingdom City north of Jeddah were being discussed back in 2007, an iconic building was a priority – something to topple Dubai as the skyscraper kings, which even then was well on the way to completing the world’s tallest building.

When Saudi Arabia announced it was building a tower that would soar a mile Gary Wrightinto the sky, utilising technology never seen before, Dubai took notice and so did the world, which reported the plan, often embroidered with unconfirmed ‘facts’.

Then came the financial crash. Saudi Arabia rode it out better than many countries, buoyed up by increasing oil prices and a need to invest heavily in its country, but for a while The Kingdom Tower slipped out of sight.

Some obeservers speculated that it was no longer a priority for the country, even as its target height was reduced from a mile to ‘just’ a kilometre.

The announcement at the end of last month that the project management contract had been awarded means that Saudi Arabia will be home to the world’s tallest building by 2018 – or possibly 2019.

The Jeddah Economic Company (JEC) announced on 21 February that it has appointed the EC Harris/Mace joint venture team to project manage the iconic build with a target date for completion of 2018.

The Kingdom Tower will become the world’s tallest building at 1km – trouncing the iconic Burj Khalifa in Dubai by 170 metres and the announcement was made amid genuine excitement by those involved.

Eng. Waleed Abdul Jaleel Batterjee, Chief Executive Officer of JEC said, “The vision of constructing the tallest tower in the world in Jeddah belongs to HRH Prince Al Waleed bin Talal.

His vision is also that the project itself will set the world’s sights on our beloved Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and particularly on Jeddah. Furthermore, the project will help create hundreds of jobs for our Saudi countrymen.”

And of course for Keith Brooks, Head of Property and Social Infrastructure at EC Harris and Mark Reynolds, Chief Executive of Mace, they rightly recorded their delight at being selected.

Looking back the Kingdom Tower has had a difficult birth: talked about for more than five years and early on there was a lot of speculation backed by few concrete facts - but it captured the world’s imagination.

Dubai was earning quite a reputation for construction, with its Burj Khalifa (then know as the Burj Dubai), still a year away from completion but known internationally.

Its final height was a secret but seemed unlikely to go much above 800m, then Saudis Arabia announced its tower would be 1,600m.

The world took notice but in 2008 reports came out of Saudi Arabia that soil testing suggested the site was unsuitabile for a structure so high and the target height was reduced to 1,000 metres, but still 170 metres taller than its nearest rival.

The following year the global crash was blamed for the project being put on hold and alongside reports that engineering firm Bechtel was no longer involved either, it cast further doubt to its viability.

The Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) though refuted news reports and assured the world that the project was going ahead.

In March 2010 Adrian Smith was selected as the preliminary architect and went on to submit the winning design from eight architectural firms. Smith has designed four of the 11 tallest buildings in the world, including the the Burj Khalifa, the Nanjing Greenland Financial Centre in Nanjing, China and the Trump International Tower in Chicago, USA, though he did not reveal his involvement for another 18 months.

In October 2010 the KHC signed a development agreement with Emaar Properties and in April 2011 news agencies around the world were reporting that the mile-high tower plan was back.

Speculative reports claimed the tower would use futuristic energy producing technology and some stories included suggestions that helicopters would be needed during construction and parachutes would form part of the fire escape plan.

The turning point came in August 2011 with the announcement that the Saudi Bin Ladin Group had been chosen as the main construction contractor. The announcement caused KHC’s stock to jump 3.2% in one day and that followed the company’s announcement of a 21% rise in Q2 net profit.

Also, for the first time, architects Gordon Gill and Adrian Smith confirmed its involvement in the project.

Commentators noted that Bin Ladin had signed for SR4.6 billion (US$1.23 billion), which was cheaper that the Burj Khalifa (US$1.5 billion), the project really was going ahead and that same month new renderings showed a 1,000m building with an area of 530,000m2 and a proposed construction time of 63 months with work starting in December 2011 - it didn’t though.

In fact it wasn’t until the 21 September 2012 when it was announced that financing for the Kingdom Tower was complete. Talal Al Maiman, chief executive officer and managing director of Kingdom Real Estate Development Co confirmed during an interview in Shanghai that it had taken “20 months” to convince all the investors.

By this time the tower had to be built - there really was no doubt at all. Simply, because its existence was a vital part of the finance plan. The tower would boost surrounding land values, to enable loans.

The creation of Downtown Dubai in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa saw values soar thanks to their proximity and there was no reason to think it would be any different in Jeddah.

The tower is part of a 50-hectare plot, the first phase of the Kingdom City development part of a three-phase project of 5.2km2 (520ha) along undeveloped waterfront 20km north of Jeddah. Kingdom City will become a new district and was designed by HOK Architects.

Three weeks after finance was confirmed on 10 October 2012, Kingdom Holdings awarded contracts totalling $98m with DAR Al-Handasah as the supervision consultant, Saudi Baeur as piling contractor and last month it announced its project managers were the EC Harris/Mace joint venture.

So, the Kingdom Tower is underway. It will be built and while the five year and three month build time seems ambitious, there is a determination evident in all those involved to finish on time.

For all of them this is not just another building, it will be an icon that will put the spotlight on Saudi Arabia again.

And it is very likely that the Saudi Arabia which becomes home to the world’s tallest building crown in 2018 (or 2019) will be a changed country from the one we see today.

The money behind the world’s tallest building
Jeddah Economic Company is a closed joint stock company formed in 2009 as a financial entity for the new Kingdom Tower and City.

It is made up primarily of stakeholders: Kingdom Holding Company (33.35%), Abrar Holding Company (33.35%), which is owned by Samaual Bakhsh, and Abdulrahman Hassan Sharbatly (16.67%), and the contractor, Saudi Binladin Group (16.63%).

JEC’s assets have a book value of around SR9 billion – the Kingdom City plot of 5.3km2 is valued at SR7.3bn, which can be used as collateral for bank loans, and an estimated SR1.5 bn in cash.

Kingdom Holding is an investment company founded in 1980 and 95% owned by Prince Talal with assets of more than $25 billion. KHC investments around the world in major companies including Walt Disney, Pepsico, Kodak, Apple, Hewlett Packard, Motorola, Time Warner and Newscorp.

- 63 Estimated months to complete
- $1.23bn Winning construction bid
- 171 Metres taller than the Burj Khalifa
- $2.4bn Estimated value of JEC’s assets

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