"Conflict and financial turmoil" will stall megatall skyscrapers says Burj Khalifa architect


Adrian Smith, one of the architects behind the world's present and future tallest buildings, has dismissed claims that we are entering the era of the "megatall" skyscraper (+ slideshow).

Chicago-based Smith – whose portfolio includes the 828-metre Burj Khalifa and the 1,000-metre-proposed Kingdom Tower – said it would be a long time before buildings over 600 metres tall become commonplace – despite technological advances.

"It's not likely to happen for several years yet," he told Dezeen.

Adrian Smith of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
Adrian Smith of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Skyscraper authority the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) released a report last week claiming that "megatall" towers of 600 metres of more are "the new frontier for the world's tallest buildings".

CTBUH predicts that the number of megatall skyscrapers is set to more than double in the next five years, rising from three to seven.

But Smith said that world economies and conflicts will stand in the way of many proposed towers.

"There is too much conflict, too much financial turmoil, and too much debt within the nations that have the technical skills to see a mega-structure to fruition," he said.

Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Smith's business parter Gordon Gill shares his scepticism.

"I think that there will always be the ambition and desire to strive for noterietay through height and I would expect that to continue," he told Dezeen.

"However, the realisation of those ideas will demand more and more stringent scrutiny by the investors as it relates to the ability to deliver these projects on an economic and technical basis. Over time, it seems the quest to go taller will become more and more challenging from a feasibility perspective."

Kingdom Tower
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture's Kingdom Tower in Jeddah is set to be the world's tallest building at over 1,000 metres

Smith and Gill worked together on the Burj Khalifa – currently the world's tallest building – while both were partners at architecture firm SOM. They were also behind the Trump Tower Chicago and London's Broadgate Tower.

They set up their own firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture in 2006, and have developed a reputation as skyscraper experts. As well as the Kingdom Tower, they have drawn up designs for a pair of 450 metre-high towers in South Korea, a 468-metre-high crystalline skyscraper for China, and a 400-metre-tower for India.

Chengdu Greenland Tower by Smith and Gill
In 2014, construction started on Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill's 468-metre-high crystalline skyscraper in Chengdu, China

They have also designed a high-density, car-free "satellite city" for 80,000 people that is underway near Chengdu, China.

Unlike Smith, SOM's Brian Lee believes advancements in construction will continue to fuel the trend for megatall buildings.

"Materials and technologies that enable megatall buildings continue to improve," he told Dezeen last week. "Buildings like the Burj Khalifa utilise these innovations to concentrate density and create potent symbols for communities."

Imperial Tower by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture have also drawn up plans for a 400-metre-tower for India

But London architect and anti-skyscraper campaigner Barbara Weiss is also dubious.

"More and more opposition groups are forming [against skyscraper developments], and even developers and architects working on skyscrapers appear defensive and even somewhat apologetic," she said.

The CTBUH made its predictions as part of its annual report released last week. It also revealed that 2015 saw more skyscrapers built than any previous year on record.

  • bulip1

    Adrian Smith might have fared well in designing tall buildings, but his analysis of the state of world is just plain wrong.

    There might be some financial uncertainty in China, namely high levels of leverage on local government level, but the world as a whole is a better place than ever before. There’s fever conflicts, less poverty and lowest level of violence than any time in history. The economy in the US is also starting to gain momentum again.

    • Jordan

      “There’s fever conflicts, less poverty and lowest level of violence than any time in history” ?

    • I

      Conflict and financial turmoil isn’t enough to kerb vanity. Ultimately that is all these towers are – vacuous status symbols.

  • Roberto Sideris

    Oil in the Gulf States is running out. Just because his proposed project is stumbling doesn’t mean Iraq, Iran and some BRIC nations won’t continue building ever taller skyscrapers.

  • evilp

    I wish these guys put as much thought into designing pleasant cities instead of vanity towers. It is well known the optimal height for a skyscraper office tower is about 30-60 floors.

    Above that you need significant land value to justify going to 100. Above that it is a phallus-measuring contest.

    • Does anyone actually use all those high-rise towers that are already built throughout the kingdoms?

  • The larger the bubble, the higher the needle.

  • Andrew

    One should also note that the top third of the Burj Kahlifa is unoccupied – over 300 metres of ‘spire’ – this is hardly mega density solving the problems of an overcrowded city. In places where people actually live, like Tokyo, Shanghai, Sao Paolo, Seoul or New York, where land is scarce and population density is already high it can make some sense.

    In desert nations full of empty skyscrapers, with total populations less than that of any of the top 10 most populous cities it is purely a case of not knowing what to do with the money that they have, albeit for only another decade. Maybe they should try education, health or public infrastructure! I’d be far more impressed with the worlds largest free public education system or free healthcare to help out some of their refugee brethren from Syria or Iraq, but of course that would require taking in at least one refugee.