Saudi Arabia's Proposed Mile High Tower Will Get a Brand New City to Go With It


Dubai's Burj Khalifa, which stands at 2,717 feet, will be dwarfed by the proposed Kingdom Tower. Photo: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo under a Creative Commons license

This month, Saudi Arabia revealed its plans to build the Kingdom Tower, the world's first mile high building, which will double the height of Dubai's Burj Khalifa, currently the world's tallest skyscraper. But going beyond the obnoxious and hubristic qualities of the tower itself (did no one ask, "Is this reasonable or necessary?"), there's a bigger jaw-dropper: the proposed construction of an 80,000 person, 23 million square meter city, to be built from scratch, so the Kingdom Tower has something to rule over. This is not good urbanism.The tower, to be built 20 miles north of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia's second largest city, has been designed by American architecture firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Hill, which was also behind the Burj Khalifa. Smith and Gill emphasize the sustainable qualities of some of their buildings, but even if it goes LEED triple platinum, the Kingdom Tower should not be accepted as green. (There doesn't seem to be much word on the tower's sustainable qualities.)

That's because the phrase "the greenest brick is the one that's already in the wall" can be applied to cities as well as buildings. The greenest city is the one that already exists, that doesn't need to be built from scratch. Dropping $17 billion on a huge new skyscaper is quite enough. Throwing in a city is going too far. And it's hard to hold out hope that this city, which will be chock full of business, shopping and entertainment centers, will embody the organic, neighborhood-based spirit that makes urban life so great.


La Défense, the business district to the west of Paris. Photo: Christian Heindel under a Creative Commons license.

But despite all my unbridled criticism, the idea of starting anew outside the established urban center isn't a new one. In the late 1950s, French leaders ditched Paris to build skycrapers in La Défense, a new business district on the city's western outskirts. (It wasn't the first time the Parisians had been thus dissed: in the 17th century, King Louis XIV transformed the provincial town of Versailles into a royal palace when he got sick of the capital.) But now Paris, which has been on a sustainable hot streak lately, is turning away from building in La Defense and looking back towards its center.

To be fair to the Kingdom Tower, the project is being billed as magnificent, not sustainable. And I admit that the realization of the Mile High Tower, first imagined by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956, will be pretty cool. But in the end, this is not what good urban planning looks like. Matt reminds us that tackling urban sprawl is more about good planning than green buildings, let alone the idea of moving 20 miles north of the city and whipping up another one.

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More on skyscapers and sustainability:
5 Skyscrapers Pushing Green to Towering New Heights
Dubai Skyscraper Is One Giant Wind and Solar Generator
Proposed Towers Are Spiral Farms and Container Cities

Tags: Architecture | Buildings | Cities | Urban Planning

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