Project Management Institute

The sky's the limit


by Sylvia Wolak

DECADES AGO, skyscraper projects were quintessentially U.S.—but no more. Two of the tallest buildings currently under construction are in China. And while the Middle East is home to half of the top 10 biggest skyscraper projects (including the tallest-to-be, Kingdom tower), europe doesn't even make the cut.

Except for one world trade Center in New York, New York, the skyscraper industry in the United States is “pretty much dead,” Dan Winey, managing principal at Gensler, the architectural firm behind shanghai tower, shanghai, China, told the Associated Press.

Building these behemoths requires project professionals to manage vocal public and private stakeholders while adhering to often-shrinking budgets.

“Skyscrapers are commercial enterprises, and the tenancy and financial equation are not as strong as they were years ago,” says T.J. Gottesdiener, managing partner of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, New York, New York, USA.

As a building type, however, the skyscraper remains strong, he attests: “it makes economic sense to build to high density around transportation hubs.”

With the world population growing at a rate of 1.14 percent per year (much of that in China), there's a tendency to build up as well as out.

Here's a look at some of the biggest skyscraper megaprojects.



One of the biggest challenges for the Al Hamra Tower project team was beating the heat. Temperatures in July can reach 46°C (115°F) in Kuwait, so the south wall of the building was designed to minimize sun exposure.

The tower, which will be the country's largest, is expected to dramatically increase auto traffic. The Municipal Council and the Ministry of Public Works teamed up to alleviate these concerns by creating a traffic plan.

The high-rise, which will house Kuwait's first IMAX cinema and a six-floor shopping mall, is scheduled for completion early next year.

Budget: US$950 million

Schedule: 2005 to 2012

Height: 1,351.7 feet (412 meters)



From the outset, the Abraj Al Bait Towers in Saudi Arabia, also known as the Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel, has been plagued by controversy. Public outcry ensued when a historic Turkish fortress was destroyed to make room for the development, which will accommodate those on pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Turkish government lodged an official protest with UNESCO, the United Nations organization responsible for the preservation of cultural relics, but the project's sponsors, the Al Saud ruling family, forged ahead anyway.

Two separate fires have stunted the project. The most severe destroyed nine floors of the building in October 2008, which pushed back the project's delivery, now slated for 2012.

Budget: US$3 billion

Schedule: 2004 to 2012

Height: 1,971.8 feet (601 meters)



The idea behind the Mercury City project was to create a vertical city of offices, residences, shops and restaurants, housed in a golden skyscraper.

Concerns of a concrete sediment runoff into the Moscow River that posed a threat to the shipping industry delayed the megaproject in 2007.

Skyscraper projects in Russia are rife with bureaucratic barriers and regional officials who try to call the shots, said Frank Williams, the tower's architect.

“In Moscow, there is this incredible phenomenon: You don't have a building code for high-rise buildings,” he told Passport magazine before his death in March 2010.

To avoid delays, sometimes project managers need to appeal to a higher authority. “You have to go over [some officials’] heads to the top people,” Mr. Williams said.

Budget: US$12 billion

Schedule: 2005 to 2012

Height: 1,246.7 feet (380 meters)


China's skyscraper industry is thriving, but project managers must contend with very stringent building and seismic codes, says Dennis C.K. Poon, vice chairman at Thornton Tomasetti, an engineering company in New York, New York, USA.

“The local building codes can be conservative, but the project team has convinced the government building officials to use our structural optimization method with the appropriate back-up analysis,” he says. “Engineers provided a lot of case studies and detailed analyses.”

Shanghai Tower will become the second tallest building in the world when it's finished (in 2014, according to the project schedule). Its twisting, triangular shape will rotate 120 degrees as it rises through the air. It's a challenging design for a region known for high winds, soft soil and potential earthquakes, Mr. Poon says.

By working with local regulators and officials, his project team reduced the steel tonnage of the tower's core and lateral systems—a move that saved the project more than US$20 million, he says.

Knowing the traditions of negotiating in a region is a critical skill, he says. “In China, it's very much about building trust and less about the legal formalities.”

Budget: US$2.2 billion

Schedule: 2008 to 2014

Height: 2,073.5 feet (632 meters)



As a potential focal point of the growing central business district of Shenzhen, China, the Ping An megaproject had to contend with newly drafted Chinese building codes.

“When we designed it, we had to deal with a new code that became more stringent,” Mr. Poon says.

The government enacted stiffness and strength requirements for secondary structural systems to withstand earthquakes, for example.

The architecture firm was able to work with local building officials to allow for some logical modifications, thanks to the organization's local and international high-rise experience, and knowledge of Chinese building codes, according to Mr. Poon.

Local officials insisted that the nearby metro service run during construction of the tower's basement floors, so the team factored that into the project plan. In response, construction crews devoted approximately six months to preparing the stabilization along the side of the basement that abuts the subway station.

Budget: US$678 million

Schedule: 2010 to 2015

Height: 2165.5 feet (660 meters)

They Might Be Giants

Of the tallest skyscraper megaprojects that have launched, many are not faring well:

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