During a press conference today in Riyadh, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal announced that a firm affiliated with his Kingdom Holding company had inked a $1.23 billion deal with the Bin Laden Group to build the world's tallest building in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah over the course of several years. The so-called Kingdom Tower, which, at over 3,281 feet, will be 568 feet taller than Dubai's Burj Khalifa, will occupy a construction space of nearly 6 million square feet and include 59 elevators, including some that travel at a rate of 33 feet per second to reach the world's highest observatory. The structure will also feature a Four Seasons hotel, luxury condominiums, and offices. Prince Alwaleed said the tower was meant to "send a message of strength" about oil-rich Saudi Arabia's economic and political stability.
And what kind of message does partnering with the bin Laden family construction company send? A 2002 AFP article noted that the Jeddah-based Saudi Bin Laden Group, originally founded by Osama bin Laden's father, Mohammad, in the 1930s, grew into a multinational conglomerate as the Saudi royal family tasked it with expanding Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina and building several palaces. While a number of Mohammad's sons have either run the Bin Laden Group or served on its board since (Osama was one of 54 children), the company has distanced itself from the notorious al-Qaeda leader, who once spent childhood summers helping his father with road projects. "The bin Laden family disowned Osama after he was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994 for suspected terrorist activities and criticism of the Al Saud ruling family," AFP explained. "We have nothing to do with" Osama, an anonymous family member added. In 1999, the company even changed the name of one of its subsidiaries from Bin Laden Telecommunications to Baud Telecommunications Company to avoid any association with the world's most-wanted man.
Meanwhile, Chicago-based Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill Architecture, which is designing Kingdom Tower, released renderings of the skyscraper today (Adrian Smith also designed the Burj Khalifa). The Financial Times tells us the structure is supposed to resemble a desert plant.
The Reuters photo below shows a model of the tower at Prince Alwaleed's press conference today: