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January 5, 2010
Dubai’s 160-story ‘superscraper’ flies in face of debt crisis

The world’s tallest building opened for business Monday. Next to Dubai’s business district stands the Burj Khalifa, whose 2,717 ft. spire reaches over 1,000 ft. higher than its closest competitor, Taipei 101.

The structure is named for Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates. About $1.5 billion was invested in the Burj Khalifa, with an additional $20 billion invested in the surrounding neighborhood.

At 162 floors, the Burj Khalifa is expected to accommodate 25,000 people at a time: 160 Armani hotel rooms, 1,100 apartments and hundreds of corporate office suites. The building’s 57 elevators rise and fall at 33 feet per second.

Watch this video from Al Jazeera English to see how this modern marvel was birthed:

Ben Macintyre of The Times of London draws an interesting correlation between “super-scrapers” and financial crises in Towering ambition always comes before a fall:

The Burj Dubai, the physical expression of Dubai’s towering ambition, a modern Tower of Babel. It is a beautiful object, a remarkable testament to human ingenuity, engineering and megalomania. As Dubai’s economy totters and sways, it may turn out to be a monumental folly, the latest example of Man’s need to build ever upwards regardless of cost, need or sense.

There is a striking correlation between projects to build the world’s tallest building, and financial crises. The construction of the Empire State Building (381m) was conceived in the run-up to the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression; the Sears Tower in Chicago (442m), built in 1974, came with the oil crisis and stagflation in the US; the Petronas Towers (452m) in Kuala Lumpur in 1997 coincided with the Asian financial crisis.

The correlation between the highest buildings and the lowest economic moments would be eerie were its reasons not so obvious — excessive credit, overconfidence and the culture of ostentation in an overheated economy.

Burj Dubai may become a symbol of Dubai’s economic resilience. Or it may end up as a monumental morality tale about overweening ambition. Either way, the new city of Masdar, now being built in Abu Dhabi as a carbon-neutral eco-city (call it the green suburb of Babel), will stand as an architectural rebuke to the great tower of hubris next door.

Khaleej Times published an opinion piece by Lanny J. Davis that depicts the construction of the Burj Khalifa in a more positive light. Davis analogizes between architecture’s role in a successful global economy with peaceful international relationships of the 21st century.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saw the connection between today’s dedication of the Burj Dubai and tomorrow’s launch of The Dubai Forum, and the core prerequisites for a stable and peaceful world when she sent her greetings and salutations to His Highness Shaikh Mohammed, and wrote: “Your efforts to create international cooperation in the global economy is an important goal, and I wish you, my friend, the very best in this endeavour.”

Secretary Clinton’s reference to “international cooperation” is of course, metaphorically speaking, no different than the brilliantly conceived mutual dependence and relationships within the Burj Dubai that keeps it stable and enduring: a “triple-lobed footprint, an abstraction of the Hymenocallis flower, composed of three elements arranged around a central core. The modular, Y-shaped structure, with setbacks along each of its three wings, provides an inherently stable configuration for the 160-story structure….Twenty-six helical levels decrease the cross section of the tower incrementally as it spirals skyward.”

We can learn important lessons from real architecture — and from the Burj Dubai. With planning and international cooperation, mutual respect among nations with different cultures, histories, religions, and traditions, we can achieve stability and security and a victory for civil society — no matter how mammoth and complex and different are the country-by-country economic infrastructures.

Global Voices culled a number of tweets that praised Dubai’s brand new marvel. AbeerMK writes:

#BurjKhalifa RT @FingerPrint10: Perfectly done and perfectly timed.. The opening of #BurjDubai will be something people won’t forget

RT @mzaher: There were indian kids next to me at #burjdubai #burjkhalifa singing the UAE national anthem in arabic. How cute.

Other netizens were disappointed in the cost of the building’s opening fireworks. Vrthejas tweets:

Looks like Dubai spent all of Abu Dhabi’s bail-out money on the opening ceremony of Burj Dubai.

Blogger Sher Ali is disappointed in the Burj Khalifa investment:

Sheikh of Dubai is mimicking the West, but does he know that West first built up Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale and then they went about having Sears tower, Empire State Building? Buildings come and go or if they stay they become just routine after sometime just like Taipei tower.

But world class universities like Oxford remain always, and they are the real secret of Western power. How many universities of that caliber are present in the whole UAE?

For a better perspective on the height of the Burj Khalifa, watch this next video recorded by two contractors peering down from the spire of the building:

Lastly, this video shows footage from ground level of the Burj Khalifa and its surroundings.

– Michael Ramirez

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