6 dec 15  | The Telegraph

Onwards and upwards for the skyscraper

by Anna White

From the Square Mile to Saudi’s deserts, the world is still in love with sheer scale.

Plans for the UK’s next super skyscraper, One Undershaft, are expected to be given the green light by the City of London Corporation this week. Once completed, the tower, next door to the Gherkin, will be the second highest column in Europe, and just a whisker shorter than the Shard, which stands at 1,004ft. It will also overshadow the new column, to be built on the site of the abandoned Pinnacle project. Despite its great height, the architect behind the project, Eric Parry, has his sights at ground level – and the name of the building says it all.

Underneath One Undershaft, a “convivial” space where people can gather will be created, Mr Parry revealed to The Sunday Telegraph.

But while the Singaporean developers Aroland Holdings and Mr Parry have been preoccupied with pleasing the surrounding community and working within the confines of a traditional city, the mega towers springing up in other parts of the world humble Britain’s more thoughtful projects. Only last week Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower came a step closer to becoming the world’s tallest building.

The developers have secured $1.2bn (£800m) of funding for the last phase of construction of the 3,280ft tower which will be completed in 2020.

“With this deal, we reach new, as yet unheard of highs in real estate development,” said Mounib Hammoud, the chief executive of Jeddah Economic Company. “It will fulfil the company’s objective of creating a world-class urban centre that offers an advanced lifestyle, so that Jeddah may have a new iconic landmark that attracts people from all walks of society.”

The tower’s design, by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, was inspired by the “folded fronds of young desert plant growth,” the company said.

The building will be the centrepiece of a project to regenerate the ancient industrial port – including 5.3m sq ft of new shops, restaurants, offices and residential buildings – and will steal the title of the world’s tallest tower from Dubai’s Burj Khalifa which is 2,717ft high with 163 floors.

The Kingdom Tower will boast the highest ever observatory (at 2,000ft) and include offices, a 200-room Four Seasons Hotel, 121 serviced apartments – most likely linked to the hotel – and 360 flats.
Observatory platforms – such as the recently opened viewing deck in the One World Trade Centre Tower in New York – are part of a trend to share such traditionally inaccessible buildings and vistas with the public, explained Mr Parry. “Skyscrapers were private, and usually the preserve of the boardroom, until Festival Hall was built on the South Bank, but corporations and developers are sharing their horizon.”

There will be viewing decks on floors 125 and 126 in the Kingdom Tower and people will live on 100 floors of the building.

Work has already started on the Kingdom Tower, located in Obhur, just north of Jeddah on the Red Sea Coast. The building will have a triangular footprint and sloped exterior to reduce wind loads and a spire which will occupy 250m at the top of the tower.

Mr Parry, who also transformed the former Olympic Village into housing and has built residential blocks as part of the regeneration of downtown Doha, emphasised that a building’s impressive height must not dwarf other structural priorities.

“Personally, I think there are problems with the towers built in the Middle East. They tend to be glazed, which is liked existing behind a sheet of the glass in the desert,” he said. “There’s a reason why nomadic tents were black and protective. When it comes to the Kingdom Tower and projects like it, we need to ask is it the right environment to proceed in this way?”

The list of the top 10 tallest buildings in the world, as compiled by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, is dominated by Asian schemes. Second to the Burj Khalifa is the Shanghai Tower in China, an office and hotel block which is 2,073ft high and covers 128 floors, while the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Tower 1 and 2 all feature.

New York’s One World Trade Centre, built from the ashes of the Twin Towers, on Ground Zero, is currently the fourth-tallest building at 1,776ft over 94 floors.

Modern techniques to protect these lofty buildings from “gathering wind” such as placing a steel core up the centre, as Mr Parry has designed for One Undershaft, and the evolution of lift technology, will only serve to increase the height and number of mega towers in the world. Office block construction in London alone has increased by 18pc over the last six months, according to Deloitte, with 26 new schemes under construction, adding 3m square feet into the development pipeline.

However, the motivations to build upwards are more complex than the search for more space alone. In fact it is basic human instinct which is fuelling the global skyscraper battle, said Mr Parry. Yes there’s a power element motivating emerging states to pronounce their wealth and success by building a taller tower than the country next door but underlying everything is an instinctive desire to be closer to the horizon, he said.

“Our ancestors built stone on stone to achieve height and the Medieval and Renaissance architects did amazing things with masonry,” he said, citing the Towers of Bologna in Italy. The taller of the two, the Asinelli Tower, is 318ft high and still standing, having been built between 1109 and 1119.

“The horizon is an incredible thing. We live with it but we can never get to it,” said Mr Parry. “If something is saggy, it is a natural consequence of old age and ruination, so we have always built these strong, straight vertical symbols to defy that. We have always been fascinated with the relationship between man, the eternal and the horizon.”