Saudi Prince to Build World's Tallest Tower

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

One of Saudi Arabia's richest princes plans to erect the world's tallest building for an estimated $1.23 billion. When finished, it will be 3,281 feet tall. By contrast, the tallest building in New York City, the 80-year-old Empire State Building, looms only 1,211 feet high.

The tower in the brain child of Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a rich investor who holds stock in many of the world's largest companies, including Citigroup (C) and News Corp. (NWS). His firm, Kingdom Holding, has signed a contract with construction firm Bin Laden Group to build the tower. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, headquartered in Chicago, will do the initial design work.

Proposed world's tallest building
Proposed world's tallest building

"Building this tower in Jeddah sends a financial and economic message that should not be ignored," Prince Alwaleed said at a press conference Tuesday. "It has a political depth to it to tell the world that we Saudis invest in our country."

Building Up Instead of Out

Nonetheless, the reasons for the project remain a wonder. The taller the building, the more difficult the task of shoring floors and buttressing walls. And there are certainly a number of ways to more easily supply similar square footage. Building three towers, each the height of the Chrysler Building, would provide more office space than building one large tower. That makes the Saudi project something of a vanity.

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Alwaleed is hardly the first to want the tallest building, however. At 2,717 feet, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai holds the current crown as the world's tallest tower. The U.S. gave up the prize long ago. It doesn't even have a building in the world's top 10. The Willis Tower in Chicago, formerly known as the Sears Tower, is the tallest building in the U.S. It was built in 1974, and is only 1,353 feet tall.