A daily bulletin of news & opinion

5 January 2010

Dubai opened the world’s tallest skyscraper yesterday – with the surprise announcement that the glistening structure had been renamed Burj Khalifa, after Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, leader of Abu Dhabi. After the neighbouring sheikdom came to Dubai’s financial rescue, the move is seen as an acknowledgment of where the power now sits in the United Arab Emirates.

Topping Dubai’s miles of additional beach, created with huge palm-shaped islands – the Burj Khalifa may stand out as Dubai’s most remarkable achievement but, as Jim Krane, author of City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Captialism pointed out, “Dubai not only has the world’s tallest building, but has also made what looks like the most expensive naming rights deal in history.” Conceived at the height of local optimism about Dubai’s place in the the world, the tower was designed by Adrian Smith, a former partner at the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The 828m tower is the equivalent of the Empire State Building with the Chrysler Building on top – a fitting symbol of Dubai as the capital of excess – and, according to various Tweets and SMS messages circulating Dubai – a thrusting middle finger to the outside world.

Dubai loves to put on a party, and the lavish light and sound extravaganza didn’t disappoint. A blaze of fireworks crackled up and down the massive tower, and Hollywood-style laser lights swept the horizon – witnessed by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, assembled dignitaries and thousands of onlookers packed on the terraces of neighbouring buildings. Until recently, the boom in status-symbol living was particularly visible in Dubai and the Burj Khalifa is the epitome of this. The “vertical city” of luxury apartments and offices, also boasts four swimming pools, a private library and the world’s first Armani Hotel, slated to open on 18 March. Residents will start moving in in February, and when completed, is expected to accommodate 12,000 residents and workers. However, most of the apartments and offices were bought as investments. Owners may struggle to find tenants once the tower’s expected high service charges are factored in, making it likely to remain empty for some time to come.

Tall buildings generally don’t make money, however Emaar Properties made a return on the Burj – selling 90 per cent of the space, to net a profit of around 10 per cent on the $1.5bn (€1bn) cost of construction.

The tower is a sign of the degree to which architectural ambition has migrated from the West to the Middle East and Asia. The tallest man-made structure in the world is more than 320m higher than its nearest inhabited rival, Taiwan’s Taipei 101. The steel ribbed, glass-clad structure passes through several climate zones – the temperature at the top is up to 10C cooler than at the bottom. An observation deck on the 124th floor opens to the public today, with adult tickets starting at $27 (€19). How long does the ride to the top take? Just over a minute.


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