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World's tallest building coming to Saudi Arabia

Image: Kingdom Tower sketch
Aerial view of proposed Kingdom Tower.Adrian Smith + Grodon Gill Architecture
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Saudi Arabia unveiled plans Tuesday to build the world's tallest tower — a mixed-use structure that will rise two-thirds of a mile high — in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal signed a $1.23 billion contract with Bin Laden Group for the proposed tower, which will take just over five years to complete. The building is the centerpiece of the planned Kingdom City development being built outside Jeddah by Prince Alwaleed's Kingdom Holding.

"Building this tower in Jeddah sends a financial and economic message that should not be ignored," Prince Alwaleed told reporters. "It has a political depth to it to tell the world that we Saudis invest in our country despite what is happening around us from events, turmoil and revolutions even."

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, a Chicago architectural firm, has been selected to design the Kingdom Tower, which will feature a Four Seasons hotel, serviced apartments, Class A office space, luxury condominiums and the world's highest observatory.

When completed, the 1,000-meter-plus (3,280-foot-plus) tower would replace Gulf neighbor Dubai's 828-meter (2,716-foot) Burj Khalifa as the tallest tower in the world. The Burj Khalifa was built by Emaar Properties for a total cost of $1.5 billion.

The exact final height is still a closely guarded secret, though it will be at least 173 meters (568 feet) taller than Burj Khalifa.

Image: Kingdom Tower model
The model of Kingdom Tower's sky terrace, the world's tallest tower to be built in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal awarded Saudi Binladin Group a contract to build the world's tallest skyscraper that will have a height exceeding 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) and cost 4.6 billion riyals ($1.2 billion) to construct.

"It is not 1,000 meters. It is more, could be more by many meters... The figure is secret, only a small number of people know," said Prince Alwaleed, a nephew of Saudi King Abdullah.

Kingdom Tower will contain 59 elevators and 12 escalators.

The design for Kingdom Tower is highly technological and distinctly organic. "With its slender, subtly asymmetrical massing, the tower evokes a bundle of leaves shooting up from the ground - a burst of new life that heralds more growth all around it," Adrian Smith said in a press release.

The sleek, streamlined form of the tower was inspired by the folded fronds of young desert plant growth, Gordon Gill added in a statement. "The way the fronds sprout upward from the ground as a single form, then start separating from each other at the top, is an analogy of new growth fused with technology," he said.

In a phone interview from Saudi Arabia, Gill told msnbc.com: "I really love the kind of specificity of the design and challenges of designing at these heights. It's not just about designing a building and making sure it works. The balance of science and art for me is at its best in this building."

Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed speaks during a news conference in Riyadh
Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal speaks near a model of the world's tallest tower during a news conference in Riyadh August 2, 2011. REUTERS/Fahad ShadeedFahad Shadeed / X02497

Kingdom Tower will cost about $1.2 billion to construct, while the cost of the entire Kingdom City project is anticipated to be $20 billion.

Groundbreaking is expected toward the end of the year, Gill said.

Transforming a city
“We intend Kingdom Tower to become both an economic engine and a proud symbol of the Kingdom’s economic and cultural stature in the world community,” said Talal Al Maiman, executive director, Development and Domestic Investments, a board member of Kingdom Holding Company and a board member of Jeddah Economic Company, which was formed in 2009 to develop Kingdom City in Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia is undergoing multibillion-dollar projects to improve its infrastructure, spending over $400 billion in the five years to 2013 and rolling out three consecutive record budgets along the way, in addition to over $130 million in social spending.

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Jeddah, the country's second-largest city, with around four million residents, has long complained of neglect.

Flash floods that swept through the city earlier this year are said to have damaged 90 percent of its roads and more than 27,000 buildings, which residents complain were poorly constructed.

"This will be a transformational project in Jeddah. It will be a source of pride for Saudi Arabia. Jeddah is in great need for it now," Prince Alwaleed said.

Saudi Arabia faces massive housing demand, due to a rapidly growing population. But its nationals have a preference for villas over apartments. Prices for villas have jumped by over 20 percent in the first half of the year, according to a report by Banque Saudi Fransi.

About 1.65 million new homes are needed by 2015 to meet growing demand in the world's largest oil exporter, Saudi Fransi said in March.

Prince Alwaleed also said that within the next few weeks or months he plans to announce plans for another real estate project in Riyadh, spanning an area of 20 million square meters.