Five new buildings changing the tone of their cities

The Abraj Kudai Hotel, Mecca. Image: Abraj Kudai.

Cities are almost constantly changing – but some are changing faster than others. Even as we speak, there are structures being built which will have ramifications far beyond just their immediate communities.

Here are a few which will have a lasting impact.

1. The Abraj Kudai Hotel, Mecca.

Few cities are undergoing as monumental change as Mecca. In 1955 it measured just 711 hectares; by 2011 it had grown to 50 times that, and projections suggest that it’ll double in size again by 2030.

This is an astonishing rate of growth by any measure, and as the number of pilgrims making the Hajj goes up year by year, so the city at the centre of the Muslim world grows too. Mecca’s airport is being expanded; a high speed link to Jeddah opens soon.

The ever-increasing seasonal influx in recent years has seen the emergence of megastructures like the Abraj Al Bait hotel – the world’s fourth tallest building, its 600m clock tower looming over the Grand Mosque. Now the city is going even bigger, with the Abraj Kudai. When completed, it will be the largest hotel in the world consisting of a ring of 12 towers 45 storeys high, with 10,000 bedrooms, 70 restaurants, and five rooftop helipads.

The city has recently granted another masterplanning application for a mixed-use development which appears modest by comparison (a mere 8.8m sq ft). But it is Mecca’s luxury megahotels which are coming to define the city. The Saudi Government will have its work cut out if it is ever to try and top the Abraj Kudai. But with the numbe of Hajj pilgrims set to rise to 20 million per year by 2030, who’s to say they won’t try, and soon?

2. 340 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

Image: SHoP Architects.

Skyscrapers in New York City are nothing new – but a new skyscraper in any borough other than Manhattan is big news.

The new high-end development planned for 340 Flatbush Avenue is set to reach 90 storeys, dwarfing its neighbours and setting a significant precedent. The New York skyline is synonymous with the city’s identity, and the visual punch of downtown Manhattan is due in no small part to its contrast against the river and the relative low rise of Brooklyn. But if its neighbours begin to creep upwards, will Manhattan retain the same command?

3. Tour Triangle, Paris

Image: Herzog & De Muron.

Paris has long imposed strict height and design regulations on new buildings in its city centre, and is regularly credited as among the most beautiful cities in the world.

But critics suggest its exile of modern development to the fringes has exacerbated social division and cost the city dear in terms of attracting business. Now the rules are being relaxed – and the first major build will certainly pack a punch.

When it opens in 2018, the Tour Triangle will be the first skyscraper to be built in the city for 40 years. At 42 floors and 180m it will tower over its immediate neighbours and will be the fourth tallest structure in the city (after the Eiffel Tower and two buildings in the La Defence business district). In a city where new builds have traditionally been restricted to just 37m, the Triangle opens the door to major revision of the historic Paris skyline.

4. The HoHo project, Vienna

Image: Rudiger Lainer & Partner.

Major cities are growing up, but not all are doing it in the same way. In terms of pure scale, Vienna isn’t competing with the world’s major metropolises. But the architects behind the HoHo project are every bit as ambitious and are laying a benchmark in eco-friendly urban design.

The HoHo will be the world’s tallest skyscraper to be made primarily out of wood, which will make up 76 per cent of the entire building. The developers say that 2,800 tonnes of CO2 have been saved by constructing from wood rather than concrete.

So far objections have been based on perceived susceptibility to going up in flames, but the architects say that the materials used are every bit as safe as a conventional structure. And if the wooden structure does go up in flames perhaps Vienna’s fire department could take a leaf from Dubai and purchase some firefighting jetpacks.

5. The Dubai Opera

Image: Emaar Architects

When it comes to new projects Dubai only knows one way – bigger and glitzier. The city’s new Opera District is following suit in terms of ambition and expense, promising to make the city a global centre for cultural tourism.

But the new opera house, which in the shadow of the monolithic Burj Khalifa, is notable on two fronts. First, it shows that Dubai is back to business as usual – the pursuit of growth, wrought from vast investment. The exact cost of the Opera project has not been revealed, but after a downturn which saw work on many of its developments halt, the Dubai construction boom is back, and the prices of its many new build flats are creeping ever upwards.

The other point to note is that the Opera represents relative modesty in Dubai’s warped scale. It is a multi-purpose venue, and seats just 2,000 people – less than half of the Sydney Opera House or the Royal Albert Hall. In a city which prizes size and unique function for its own sake, is this the beginning of a change of direction?


Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.