Q: In general terms can you describe what the building will be like and its features?
A: Kingdom Tower will be the tallest building in the world at over 1,000 meters. Its shape tapers upward from a three-legged footprint, with each leg terminating at different heights. The design of the silhouette took both practical and aesthetic considerations into account. We wanted to reduce the sail area at the top of the building to reduce wind load, and we also wanted the massing at the top to be asymmetrical in order to assist in the shedding of wind vortexes, thereby reducing the acceleration of the movement of the tower. Aesthetically, we wanted Kingdom Tower to have a powerful, simple iconic appearance from a distance, and also to have additional visual impact at medium and close range. The tower will contain a luxury hotel, restaurants, ballroom, office space, observation deck and luxury serviced apartments/residential units. There will be retail at the base of the tower and an observatory at the top, as well as recreational/spa facilities for residents and hotel visitors. There will be prayer rooms located at convenient spots throughout the building to serve the residents and users. In the current design there are passenger, freight and emergency service elevators that service every occupied floor. There are a total of 66 elevators, including 58 single-deck elevators and eight double-deck elevators. There are also 26 escalators. There’s also a skydeck that will be used an amenity space for the penthouse level.
Q: How hard was the selection process?
A: It was a hard-fought competition with several other top international architecture firms, including my own former firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. We at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture are extremely proud to have been selected.
Q: Going back at your college years, did you ever think you would be designing the world's tallest building?
A: Not at that time, no, although I was always very interested in tall buildings. Growing up on the beach in California, I used to build sand castles and see how tall I could make them. In high school, the first drawing I did in an architectural drawing class was a 40-story skyscraper in dramatic perspective. So the interest was always there. After college, I started working at SOM, where my mentor was Bruce Graham, who designed the John Hancock Center and Sears Tower in Chicago. But I didn’t get a chance to design a supertall building myself until the 1990s, when I won a competition to design Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai. At the time it was the tallest building in China and remains one of the tallest buildings in the world. Since then I’ve designed four of the world’s 11 current tallest buildings, which is a pretty good percentage.
Q: What inspired you for the design process?
A: I’ve always practiced architecture as a contextualist—which means that my buildings take into account the history, culture, indigenous architecture, climate and landscape of the places they’re designed for. Good design, to me, is not about having a signature style that you replicate everywhere in the world regardless of local conditions. It’s about responding to and reinterpreting the local context, and thereby honoring the cultures I’m serving with my designs.
Q: What is the main concern of the design team? Any special item or effect that you want to create on this building?
A: In the case of Kingdom Tower, we wanted to realize the client’s vision for a landmark tower for Saudi Arabia, one that would symbolize the Kingdom’s place as a leader on the world stage. We see that symbolized by the plant-like leaves separating at the tower’s top, which are a metaphor for new growth in the Kingdom.
Q: What will be the building's façade?
A: The façade features a high-performance exterior wall system that will minimize energy consumption by reducing thermal loads. In addition, each of Kingdom Tower’s three sides features a series of notches that create pockets of shadow that shield areas of the building from the sun and provide outdoor terraces with stunning views of Jeddah and the Red Sea. The notches also help reduce heat gain in the residential units by providing shadow and reducing glare. They also contribute to the overall architectural statement of the massing of the tower by providing visual relief from its predominant verticality. As the viewer moves around the tower, he or she will also notice that the notches create an overlapping, “weaving” effect that unifies the building’s three wings.
Q: How long will it take to get from the lobby to the upper level floor?
A: Elevators serving the observatory, at somewhat more than 500 meters above grade, will travel at a rate of 10 meters per second in both directions.
Q: How is the integration between mechanical, structural and electrical components of the building?
A: The building’s systems are still under design, but in general they will work in concert with one another to ensure maximum human comfort inside the building.
Q: Where has the skyscraper industry in the US gone?
A: It’s true that not a lot of supertall buildings have been built in the U.S. in recent years. The Trump Tower International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, which I designed while at SOM, is the tallest building constructed in the U.S. in the past quarter century. Part of the problem is that credit has been tight in recent years, and supertall buildings are obviously very expensive. Another issue is that within major American cities, where such towers would most likely be built, it’s difficult for a developer to amass a large parcel of land on which to build not just a supertall tower but a related development around it, which would make the project much more economically feasible. But I think more supertall towers will definitely be built in the U.S. in the future. Cities have to grow and evolve; otherwise they lose their soul.