The world’s next tallest building is rising from the sand and up into the clouds. Jeddah Tower (previously known as Kingdom Tower) in Saudi Arabia, will open in 2020, and will beat the current tallest skyscraper in the world — Dubai’s Burj Khalifa — by 236 feet (72 metres).
Jeddah Tower will be over half a mile high (3,280 feet), and its construction is estimated to cost $1.4 billion.
In 2017, the tower was just 826 feet (252 metres) high and already had expansive views of the kingdom.
The tower will be the crown jewel of Jeddah Economic City, a commercial and residential project of 57 million square feet (5.3 million square metres), that will feature offices, houses, apartments, hotels, as well as tourist attractions.
The project has hit a number of stumbling blocks, however.
There have been multiple delays since the construction started in 2013, and from November 2017, two of the project’s most prominent backers — Saudi Arabia’s Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a prolific investor and businessman, and Bakr Bin Laden, chairman of Jeddah Tower’s construction company Bin Laden Group — have been caught up in the kingdom’s anti-corruption purge, which saw hundreds of them interrogated on grounds of corruption.
Jeddah Economic Company, who are developing the skyscraper, confirmed that the project is set for 2020. Both Al-Waleed and Bin Laden have not yet spoken on the project.
“Vision 2030 is the development strategy of the project … this is the instruction we have given to the architects and to the urban planners,” explains Mounib Hammoud, CEO of Jeddah Economic Company.
“The Egyptians, they built the pyramids. In medieval France, they built all these huge cathedrals and churches. And in modern times, they built New York, Chicago. So really, it’s a token of strength and ingenuity,” he says. “Like in every city: after money, after power, you want strength.
“After strength, you want to establish something, leave something for the world. And today, Jeddah is going to have a building which, many generations to come will talk about it.”
However, the construction of the tower has raised a number of concerns about the amount of money being spent on a city, as well as the workers involved in the tower’s construction as well as other other buildings in the city.
I really wonder if Saudi needs to spend $20 billion on Jeddah Tower…. I can think of hundreds of other ways this money could be spent
— Mahsa Nami (@MahsaNami) February 3, 2016
Since November 2014, over 250,000 migrant workers in Saudi Arabia have been arrested and deported under the violation of labour and residency laws, despite the fact that “these restrictive laws are part of a labour system that leads to rampant human rights abuses“.
Saudi Arabia also implements the kafala system, which is infamous for its constant exploitation of migrant workers from South Asian countries in particular. Human Rights Watch has previously criticised the country’s labour system as “abusive”.
“The kafala, or sponsorship system ties migrant workers’ residency permits to sponsoring employers, whose written consent is required for workers to change employers or leave the country,” it has said.
“Employers often abuse this power in violation of Saudi law to confiscate passports, withhold wages and force migrants to work against their will or on exploitative terms.”
“Every major construction project in Saudi Arabia uses migrant workers,” explained Adam Coogle, Saudi Arabian expert at Human Rights Watch. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the case of the Kingdom Tower, it is exclusively foreign labour.”