Magazine article The Spectator

Faulty Towers

Magazine article The Spectator

Faulty Towers

Article excerpt

There's nothing like a skyscraper to tell you where he next bubble will burst.

Ever since the Arab Spring sprang its bright new dawn, the old regimes of the Middle East - along with their economies - have fallen like dominoes. But one authoritarian regime, at least, stands taller than ever: Saudi Arabia. Its shimmery skyline, its modern minarets, all testify to the infallibility of petroleum-rich power. Yet there's one enormous sign that Saudi may be headed for the skids.

This year, the Saudis started construction of the Kingdom Tower, a 200-floor skyscraper which is due to be completed in 2017. This citadel has the backing of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and will be built by the Bin Laden family (the late Osama was a relation, though they disavowed him years ago). The building will have 59 lifts, luxury apartments, offices and a Four Seasons hotel. There will be a viewing platform at the top, from which to survey the gleaming metropolis of Jeddah.

Kingdom Tower will be the tallest building in the world. It will be a kilometre high.

The Saudis should know better. The building of a record-breaking skyscraper has almost always been a harbinger of economic doom, as the people who study this phenomenon seriously (there are one or two of them) will tell you. Take, for example, America. In the 1900s, Manhattan was laying the groundwork for the two tallest buildings the world had yet then seen - the Singer Building, construction of which started in 1902, and the Metropolitan Life Tower, begun in 1907. Then came the panic of 1907, which saw the New York Stock Exchange fall 50 per cent from its peak the year before.

The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building popped up around the time the Wall Street crash of 1929 triggered the Great Depression. The World Trade Center and the Sears Tower coincided with the 1973 stock market meltdown and the oil crisis.

Examples can be found across the world.

Malaysia's Petronas Twin Towers, which held the title of world's headiest erection for six years, was built between 1993 and 1998.

The Asian financial crisis struck while it was being completed. The UAE's Burj Khalifa shot into the Emirati heavens just as Dubai began defaulting on its loans. …

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