The Concrete Dilemma of the World’s Tallest Skyscraper 7

Friday, March 7th, 2014
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The Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia will stand 3,280 feet – one kilometre – tall upon completion. While uncertainty persists as to whether or not the skyscraper will ever become a reality, testing currently being conducted by engineers will at least determine if its construction is theoretically possible.

One of the biggest challenges in building the world’s tallest skyscraper will be  pouring of concrete thousands of feet above the ground.  The challenge of pumping concrete so high up a single, pressurised pipe represents a massive engineering feat.

The developer has engaged Advanced Construction Technology Services (ACTS) to investigate the materials and process required.  ACTS specialises in construction materials technology, particularly in the practical aspects of specifying concrete materials and methods, concrete production, putting concrete into place and getting the most out of concrete on a long-term basis.

The company will test the strength of different high performance concretes in conjunction with steel framing options. It is likely that around half a million cubic metres of concrete and approximately 80,000 tonnes of steel will be required for the skyscraper. Once the optimum materials have been determined, engineers will have to work out how to pour each floor on top of the preceding one, which will require further testing of methods for pumping wet concrete.

“ACTS will deploy special equipment to evaluate the rheological properties of concrete to ensure concrete will be pumpable to very high elevations,” reported the Saudi Gazette.

The foundations of the tower will be 200 feet deep and will have to be able withstand salt water from the Red Sea, website Gizmodo reported, meaning that testing the materials must be the first item on the building agenda.

However, a similar technique was used to build the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, which set the world record for the highest concrete pumping.

A new, super high-pressure trailer pump was specifically designed for the Burj project. The pump’s frame and hopper were reinforced in order to withstand the enormous weight of the concrete mixtures.

Throughout the entire project, only high compressive strength concrete mixtures were used and pouring was only performed at night because of high temperatures during the day. Concrete was chilled at the plant prior to preparation and part of the water was replaced with shards of ice, allowing the concrete to be transferred at 82° Fahrenheit (28° Celsius), which is typical of night time temperatures in Dubai.


Other challenges the team will face include how to incorporate the vertical transportation systems and fire escapes required, which take up valuable occupiable space; how to reduce its overall weight to save costs; and how to ensure the tapering wing design is suitably aerodynamic in its shape to reduce structural loading due to wind speeds at higher altitudes.

Since the 1960s, engineers have primarily employed tubular designs devised by Bangladeshi-American structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan to build skyscrapers.

This engineering principle makes the buildings structurally more efficient and stronger and reduces the use of material to keep costs down while allowing the buildings to reach greater heights.

It has been quiet on the Kingdom Tower news front for a while, so reports of this testing phase casts a more positive light on its possible progress. Irrespective of whether the tower is ever built, the current phase of the project at least determine whether its construction is a theoretical possibility.

The proposed tower is expected to cost $1.23 billion and would be 568 feet (173 metres) taller than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower.

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  1. Dan Little

    World's worst fire drill.

  2. Ian White

    No point in having a fire drill. Beyond a certain level, you will never make it out alive if you had to try and get out.

    But what a view…of sand!!!

  3. Ing. Peter G. Cullen M.I.E.Aust

    I suspect Creep in Concrete might be a rather Large Problem! and half the Strength of 50MPa Concrete will be used up, assuming the Foundation is at ground level…which it won't be!…. Just a couple of quick thoughts… and the other being I suspect that it might be cheaper to have Intermediate Floors reserved for Gardens and Public Space that would be utilised initially as Staging Levels for Concrete Mixing and Pumping… I suspect that the Article is a little misleading…. Who in the world would try to pump Wet Concrete with a lift of 1000m?…Crazy Man!

  4. Andy Wearmouth

    Have we crossed a line here in terms of the pursuit of technological development and advancement of science versus the pandering to egos ? In a place hardly short of real estate I would have thought there were more space efficient designs that could be bought for $1.2B !

  5. RicP

    This development is about massaging someone's ego. Whose building in this world symbolises the architect with the longest penis. I could continue in this vein, suffice it to say it is not length but style and technique ….
    What are the ramifications to the environment around this erection, the transport issues, or will it be occupied by by work and home units.
    After Ground Zero, are such structures really practical?

  6. R.V.R.KUMAR

    A great efforf.
    I was wondering if it would be possible to establish concrete mixing and pumping stations at certain heights by designating some floors as concrete mixing floors,to reduce the enormous pressures required to pump from ground levels by taking the raw materials to those levels and do the mixing there. Of course,there would be restraints and constraints like equipment sizes and vibrations,taking and removing the the same after work is over etc.

  7. Gary S.

    Just don't see the point of these vainglorious white elephant projects mounted by authoritarian governments.