EXCLUSIVE: Saudi Arabia plans 2km megatall tower in Riyadh

07 December 2022
The proposed structure will be more than double the height of the world's tallest building – the 828-metre-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai


Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is considering plans for a 2-kilometre megatall tower as part of an 18-square-kilometre masterplanned development to the north of Riyadh.

The proposed tower will be more than double the height of the world’s tallest building – Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which is 828 metres tall. Contractors that have priced megatall towers in the region say that depending on the final design, a 2km-tall structure could cost about $5bn to construct.

A design competition with a participation fee of $1m is underway for the record-breaking tower, according to multiple sources close to the contest.

The sources add that about eight firms have been invited to participate in the competition. The firms involved include some of the world’s leading names in architecture, which have been selected based on their experience working on other megatall towers and iconic designs around the world.

The prospective participants include US-based firms Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill Architecture, Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) and Gensler; 10Design, which is part of France’s Egis; and Dubai-based Killa Design.

The project site is located west of the existing King Khalid International airport, and EY conducted the feasibility study for the development.

For the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the cost of the tower was justified because it enhanced the land values of the surrounding Downtown district.

The developer of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai-based Emaar, used the strategy again when it launched The Tower at Dubai Creek Harbour in April 2016 to boost property sales of the surrounding Dubai Creek Harbour development. That tower, planned to be at least 928 metres tall, has not progressed beyond the raft foundation.

Riyadh’s proposed tall tower is just one major project planned for the northern outskirts of Riyadh. On 28 November, a masterplan for an expansion to the airport was announced.

It will be known as King Salman International airport, and if completed on time in 2030, it will become the largest airport in the world in terms of passenger capacity. It will cover an area of about 57 square kilometres, allowing for six parallel runways, and will include the existing terminals at King Khalid International airport.

Other tall buildings are planned elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, and the scale of the structures reflects Riyadh’s confidence as it moves to deliver the objectives set out by Vision 2030 with a series of self-styled gigaprojects. 

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At Neom, the first modules of the 170km-long buildings known as The Line are 500 metres tall. Other structures, such as the two hotel towers for the Gas Station Hotel at the Gulf of Aqaba, are planned to be 500 metres tall.

Saudi Arabia has planned tall buildings before. PIF was considering plans for a tower of up to 1.2km in height at King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) on a plot known as KAFD X. Consultants were preparing designs for the project in 2019.

Another tall tower planned for Saudi Arabia is the 1,008-metre Jeddah Tower Scheme. Construction work on that tower began about 10 years ago and subsequently stalled after the structure reached about 70 storeys.

Attempts to revive the project have not proceeded as companies are reluctant to take on any liabilities from contractors and consultants that had previously worked on the scheme.

According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), a supertall building is over 300 metres tall, while one that measures over 600 metres is considered megatall. Currently, there are 173 supertalls and only three megatalls completed globally, says the CTBUH.

According to tall building database Emporis, only two completed structures in the Middle East are megatall: the Burj Khalifa and the 601-metre-tall Mecca clock tower.

The PIF did not respond to a request to comment on the 2km-tall tower plans.

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