A mile-high skyscraper, almost double the height of today's tallest building, may become a reality by 2025 as countries splurge cash in an ego-fuelled race to construct the world's highest tower.
"If you have enough money, I'm sure the human mind can create a lot higher," said Timothy Johnson, an architect and head of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, in an interview. "Who are we to say it's good or bad. People want to push higher and higher. That's just human nature, isn't it?"
Planning for the next milestone, a 1.6-kilometre tall building, might be under way before 2020 and completed five years after that, Johnson said, without giving further details. Johnson designed The Sail at Marina Bay in Singapore, the world's 10th tallest residential building.
Today's highest skyscraper - the 828-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai - is set to be overtaken by the one-kilometre Kingdom Tower in Jeddah when it's completed in 2018. Developing countries are eclipsing the United States and Europe in the "mega-tall" category of 600-metre-plus buildings, fuelled by faster economic growth and a desire to show off their wealth.
The council, founded in 1969, is holding its first congress in China, where it says nine of the world's highest 20 buildings under construction are going up, three times more than any other country. It has been recognised as the arbiter on building height.
Johnson said he had discussed with a Middle Eastern developer a plan for a building 2.4 kilometres high about four years ago. The plan was shelved because of the economic turmoil in the region, he said, declining to identify the developer. "We actually discovered you can do it," Johnson said.
The challenges are finding materials to replace steel and cement, and identifying methods beyond traditional elevators to move people. The world's next tallest building was unlikely to be in the US or in Europe, he said.
"Maybe the one-mile building will be in Africa, a place that needs to somehow say, 'look, we are also here'," he said.
China completed 23 buildings over 200 metres last year, more than any other country, according to the council.
Five of the world's tallest 20 buildings in 2020 will be located in three countries in the Middle East: the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to the council.
"What's happening in the Middle East is a bit of ego," Johnson said. "A lot of this is built with oil money. There isn't necessarily the demand; however, the people building these want to push human ingenuity."
Kingdom Holding, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's investment company, was seeking a loan to help pay for the construction of the Kingdom Tower, two people with knowledge of the matter said in April. It will be about 50 floors higher than Burj Khalifa.
Johnson said it was an amazing feeling to stand on top of skyscrapers such as the Burj Khalifa. "But you kind of ask yourself, 'why would anyone want to be up that high?' And some of it is just human ego."