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The BBC's Frank Gardner
"A towering skyscraper where only a generation ago was nothing but sand"
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Sunday, 14 May, 2000, 06:57 GMT 07:57 UK
Saudi opens first skyscraper
The skyscraper towers above the city
The skyscraper towers above the city
By Middle East Correspondent Frank Gardner in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia's first skyscraper has been officially opened in the capital, Riyadh.

After decades of expanding outwards, Riyadh has now shot up into the air.

At 267m high, the gently curving profile of the Faisaliah tower is visible from almost anywhere in the city of four million.

From a distance, the British-designed tower resembles the nib of a fountain pen.

It took three years to complete, and uses some unusual methods of combating the desert heat of more than 50C (120F).

Melting ice

"This building is unique. Its shape is unused anywhere else in the world. It has almost a total transparency both from outside and inside and it has a very economical form of structure, of glazing, to provide a commercial building that is unique throughout the world," said Peter de Boeck, from the British engineering firm of Buro Happoid.

The huge globe is an observation deck
The huge globe is an observation deck
Because of the immense summer heat, the designers have had to build in an ice storage system.

To save electricity, it makes up to 50 tons of ice at night, then melts it during the day to cool the building.

Just below the summit there is a huge, golden globe, an observation deck over the villas, streets and marketplaces of Riyadh.

Down in the carpet souk there are still residents who can remember life before concrete.

Riyadh today is a city of motorways, flyovers, and low-rise commercial development - a city that even some Saudis say has no soul.

But for the first time, residents of this desert capital have a landmark, a focal point.

New shopping centre pulls crowds

And the Faisaliah Tower is also bringing the world closer to Riyadh.

Riyadh is a city of motorways and flyovers
Riyadh is a city of motorways and flyovers
Beneath the tower lies the newly opened Faisaliah Shopping Centre. In a country where most public entertainment is banned, shopping is the next best thing.

From their trips abroad, Saudis have acquired sophisticated tastes.

But here in Riyadh this mall and its designer restaurant offers residents a whole evening out - exactly what its brainchild, Prince Bandar Bin Saud from the King Faisal Foundation charity, had in mind.

Saudi's have acquired sophisticated tastes
Saudi's have acquired sophisticated tastes
"I think the lifestyle that we are introducing here, it's not only shopping, it's the first time that I find people walking outside by the sidewalk, women in the street, for long walks, so the whole thing is being changed here," said Prince Bandar Bin Saud.

The Western music that some stores are trying to play may be too much for the tastes of the Saudi religious police, the "mutawwa".

In their flowing robes and beards, they are already paroling the shopping centre, reminding people of prayer times and making shops turn off their music.

But that is unlikely to put off the residents of Riyadh who now finally have a city centre.

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