x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sky is still the limit for architect

There is no doubt that some projects are being scaled back but architect for Burj Khalifa sees hope for super skyscrapers.

ABU DHABI // The global downturn may have brought an end to many planned tall buildings around the world, but Adrian Smith, the Chicago-based designer of the Burj Khalifa, believes there is still a future for these epic structures, even in Dubai. "Developers are still thinking about doing buildings over 100 storeys," Mr Smith says from Kuala Lumpur, where he is competing for a contract.

"Recessions come and go. In many regards, the special super-tall buildings will still have a life to them. It gives a larger development an identity, which is everything in real estate." There is no doubt that ambitions have been scaled back. A year ago, Mr Smith's firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill was working on 11 towers. Six of them were higher than 500 metres but all of those developments have but ground to a halt.

But two of these projects could still be revived, Mr Smith says. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is still keen on a design unveiled by his property company Meraas Development. The design for 1 Dubai would consist of three towers connected by sky bridges. One of these towers would rise to 1km; the others to 800 metres and 600 metres. "I think as big as it is, 1 Dubai still has potential to be built," Mr Smith says.

"It's a 10 million square foot project and it's one that Sheikh Mohammed loves." He says the design has completed two wind tunnel tests and a full schematic design is half finished. The next big project on the horizon could be the planned 1.1km Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, which would be at the centre of a huge development. Emaar Properties has already been selected as a consultant to Kingdom Holding for the endeavour.

Mr Smith is bidding to design the Kingdom Tower, as is his old company Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. The key to such expensive and time-consuming projects is economic sustainability. "So many of these very tall buildings are announced by people but are seldom carried through," he says. "They are basically money losers. They feature into much larger developments." With the Saudi undertaking, Mr Smith says the developer "has to think long and hard about doing a project that size".

It would have to commit a large amount of money and not see a return for five and a half years - the time it would take to build such a tower. One tactic Mr Smith advocates is "accelerated occupancy", where lower level floors are ready to be occupied, thus producing revenue, while construction continues higher up. "That will go a long ways to making the super-tall buildings financially viable," he says.

A major change in the industry is that master-planned developments will be built over a longer period. "Unless you have a huge influx of population all of the sudden, there is no way to sell all that space," Mr Smith says. "In the Middle East, the population is growing but not at the speed of the construction that was happening in the last few years." @Email:bhope@thenational.ae