Last week saw the opening ceremonies of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa , at 2625 + feet the world’s tallest building. The Burj took six years to build as more than 12,000 workers toiled for over 22 million man-hours to bring it from drawing board to reality.
Everything about the building is outsize , superlative , monumental.For instance, Burj Khalifa utilizes a record-breaking 330,000 cubic meters (11.6 million cubic feet) of concrete , 39,000 metric tonnes of reinforced steel , 103,000 sq m (1.1 million sq ft) of double glazed glass, and 15,500 sq m (166,800 sq ft) of embossed stainless steel. More than 45,000 cubic metres (1.59 million cubic ft) of concrete, weighing more than 110,000 tonnes, make up the tower’s steel-reinforced foundations with 192 piles running to a depth of over 50 metres (164 ft). All kinds of construction records were set as the buiding was being erected.
Definitely , it is a technological marvel.
The Burj , located in the heart of Dubai, has a total built up area of around 6 million square feet. Around 2 million square feet inside the tower is dedicated to luxury residential apartments, while more than 300,000 square feet is allocated for office space. That’s in addition to the sections of the tower taken up by the Armani Hotel Dubai and the Armani Residences Dubai. A total of 57 elevators and eight escalators serve people living, and working , in the tower. Burj Khalifa also boasts four swimming pools, a cigar lounge, residents’ lounge, the fine dining restaurant ‘At.mosphere’, and a variety of health and fitness facilities. No expense has been spared and anyone who has seen photos of the interior will acknowledge that the furnishings are the last word in luxury.
And yet : is the Burj Khalifa the monumental success it’s owners claim it is …or is it a monumental folly? I use the word “folly” in the architectural sense of the word , which is ” a highly decorative building which has only secondary practical functions such as housing or business use“.
Skyscrapers make sense in highly built up urban areas such as Manhattan or Taipei or London or Singapore where land is at a premium and the only way to go is up. They make less sense in Dubai . The Burj Khalifa looks like an ungainly giraffe as it towers over the other skyscrapers in Dubai. It is completely out of scale in relation to it’s surroundings. There have been criticisms of its architecture but I don’t want to go into them here. The primary thought in its owners heads seems to have been that it should be the tallest building in the world.That it certainly is, but to what purpose. How successful will it be from a commercial standpoint ?
I used to work in an office building right next to the World Trade Center in New York City and, from what I remember, not all the offices were rented. ( The Petronas Towers too were not fully occupied at one time though I don’t know if that has changed). I occasionally attended meetings and conferences in the WTC Towers and it was a pain in the butt to take an elevator to the upper floors. In fact one had to take two or three different elevators to get to one’s destination ; an express elevator tand then other ‘local” elevators which made more stops. Even though the elevators were high speed , it took several minutes to reach a particular office and , once one got there , one would not go back down again unless there was a pressing reason. From the windows , one had breathtaking views of the tip of Manhattan and the skyscrapers of midtown but I’m sure it very quickly got old. I don’t think that those who worked there spent much time looking out of the windows.
The Burj has positioned itself as a luxury building and so there will be a considerable cachet to living or working in it. However, it shares with other tall buildings the same problems of difficulty of access. Considering the time it takes to get to one’s floor, I’d think the lower floors would be more attractive than the higher ones. By the way, the top thirty or so floors are very small and are good only as storerooms. Those on the upper floors would have to spend considerable time to get to their apartments or ,conversely, back to ground level. The other choice would be to spend almost all their time within the building since all types of services are available there. In such case, they might find the Burj to be a gilded cage. As for the view from the observation platform of the Burj,, I understand that it is spectacular ; one can look out a distance of 95 kms. Sounds good, but much of the time the Burj is surrounded by a haze that hides everything on the ground from view. Finally, the maintenance costs of the building must be enormous. As one report put it , everytime a tenant flushes a WC, the toilet tank will have to be replenished by pumping the water half a mile up into the sky.
Of course, the tenants of the Burj are all ultra-rich and they can well afford the rent and maintenance costs . The prestige of living in the Burj may outweigh all these mundane considerations but, once the novelty wears off, will they still be happy living there ? Dubai is being touted as a business and financial center but I think it arouses the same feelings that New York City does in most people. ” Nice place to visit but Iwouldn’t want to live there”.
There are those who say that the Burj Khalifa will make Dubai a tourist mecca and that , in the years to come, the Burj will be a tourist attraction to rival the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal. Perhaps so, but those two are quite different from the Burj in some important respects. Both of them have a long history and are tombs with an interesting back story. The Burj Khalifa, on the other hand, is very new ; will people feel the same way about a brand new residence hotel/ office building as they do about an ancient mausoleum ?
Only time will tell whether the the Burj Khalifa is will be a smashing success or a white elephant. We may have to wait twenty or thirty years to get a definitive answer.