Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gulf states in race to build world's tallest tower



Gulf Arab states, flush with proceeds from record high oil prices, are racing to build the world's tallest tower.

Saudi Arabia, which sits on a quarter of the planet's proven oil reserves, has just joined the fray with a plan to build a one-mile (1,600 metre, 5,249 foot) tower in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, according to the London-based Middle East Economic Digest (MEED).

The project, which would overtake super-tall skyscrapers in neighbouring Kuwait and Dubai, the city state associated with mega ventures, places the competition to build the world's tallest tower firmly in the Gulf region.

Of all the other high-profile buildings under construction around the globe, such as New York's Freedom Tower, none will exceed 700 metres (2,296 feet) in height.

Riyadh-based Kingdom Holding, which is controlled by Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Walid bin Talal, will invite bids before July for contracts to build the tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia's commercial capital.

MEED said that although there is still secrecy over which companies are involved with the project, it is believed that Britain's Hyder Consulting is working in a joint venture with Arup, also British, as engineer on the project, which is expected to cost up to $10 billion (Dh36.7 billion).

US engineering giant Bechtel has been chosen as construction manager for the "Mile-High Tower," as it is known. Saudi firm Omrania is the project architect.

Kuwait has unveiled a plan to build a 1,001-metre (3,284 foot) tower. Its height is a reference to the classic work of Arabic literature, One Thousand and One Nights.

Three blades that will be built near the top of the tower will carry a mosque, a church and a synagogue to signify the unity of the three monotheistic religions.

The building will be one of the highlights of the "City of Silk," a $77-billion (Dh282.59 billion) project inspired by the Silk Road which aims to revive the ancient trade route by becoming a major free trade zone linking central Asia with Europe.

The city, located in Subbiya on the northernmost tip of Kuwait Bay hard by the Iraqi border, plans to house 750,000 people when completed in 2030.

Kuwait, which sits on 10 per cent of global crude reserves, has been vying to restore its position as the most developed country in the Gulf, buoyed by windfall revenues from high oil prices that have increased its foreign assets to $213 billion (Dh781.71 billion).

But both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have their work cut out if they are to steal a march on Dubai, a bustling member of the United Arab Emirates.

The emirate's "Burj Dubai" (Arabic for Dubai Tower) overtook Taiwan's Taipei 101 tower as the world's tallest building when it reached 512 metres (1,680 feet) in July.

Burj Dubai's height is now over 600 metres (1,968 feet).

Although its final height remains a closely guarded secret, developers Emaar Properties have said the $1-billion (Dh3.67 billion) skyscraper will be more than 700 metres tall and have more than 160 storeys. Burj Dubai is the centrepiece of a $20-billion (Dh73.4 billion) venture featuring the construction of a new district, "Downtown Burj Dubai," that will house 30,000 apartments and the world's largest shopping mall.

But Burj Dubai is facing competition on its own turf.

Dubai's other property development major, Nakheel, has announced it will build "Al-Burj" or "The Tower," whose projected height has not been revealed but which, according to local press reports, is planned to overtake Burj Dubai.

Nakheel is behind such feats as three palm tree-shaped man-made islands and "The World," a cluster of some 300 islands looking like a blurred vision of the planet's nations being built off Dubai's coast.

The Western-oriented city state is in the midst of a massive construction boom as it seeks to position itself as a business and leisure hub in the face of dwindling oil wealth.

The multi-billion-dollar projects being undertaken by oil-rich Gulf states may be engineering marvels, but some have questioned their usefulness in these days of greater environmental consciousness and austerity.

"These new projects push architecture and engineering to new limits, though it's also possible to create buildings and landmarks that aren't that high, but are viable and, most important, beautiful," Allan Chamberlin, an Australian Dubai-based architect, told AFP.

Dubai has passed a law requiring new buildings to have greater "green" credentials, such as meeting stricter energy efficiency targets.

But even if these future towers that scale record heights were to adopt these new environmental standards, Chamberlin still asks whether their scale is really necessary.

"Other than monetary gain, the first question that should be asked when thinking about creating a 'green building' is do we really need to build it?" (AFP)

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