Burj Al Arab (Arabian Tower) 
PO Box 74147 
Jumeirah Beach Road
United Arab Emirates

Tom Wills-Wright (WS Atkins) 1999

Dubai's iconic building is a construction of superlatives. The world's tallest hotel (321 meters) is also popularly described as the world's only 7-Star hotel - although its formal rating is 5 Star Deluxe, the highest the international rating system offers.

Built on its own artificial island, the hotel can be reached by causeway (in one of its courtesy white Rolls Royces) or by helicopter, straight to its heliport cantilevered out from its top floor. (The heliport has also served as a grass tennis court for Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, and a golf green for Tiger Woods.)


Also extending from the top floor is the Skyview Bar, with sunset views over the Gulf, including the artificial Palm Jumeirah island and The World archipelago.

Inside, the superlatives mostly translate into extreme gaudiness, with gold leaf applied more for quantity than design. There is little subtlety in the decor of the communal entrance areas, with the exception of the dramatic larger-than-life aquaria lining the escalators (top-right picture).

The front (shore-facing) facade is constructed of two tiers of huge, steel 'X' trusses. Below these, full-width windows provide panoramic views from two levels of entrance lobby, unencumbered by structural support.

Above these first two levels, the facade outside of the trusses is made up of translucent white fabric stretched around the structural frame - the sail of the dhow that the building's shape is inspired by. During the day, this white wall glows to illuminate the full-height atrium (at 180 meters, the world's tallest). At night, a complex arrangement of changing projected lighting makes Burj Al Arab a changing beacon seen from outside, while providing a dramatic illuminated show seen from the atrium within.


On the opposite side of the atrium, the floors are organized around corridor 'galleries' that open onto the atrium space.

Simon Glynn 2005
Updated 2008

How to visit

As its web site describes it, "Burj Al Arab is located in the Jumeirah Beach area of Dubai, 15 km. from the main city centre and 25 km. from Dubai International Airport. It is well served by taxis and has its own fleet of 10 chauffeur driven Rolls-Royces. It stands proudly on a man-made island some 280m. offshore and is linked to the mainland by a slender, gently curving causeway."

To cross the causeway, however, you need a reservation at the hotel. Casual visitors are not admitted, and reservations - even for a meal - require almost as much advance notice as they do cash.

Even if you don't make it across the causeway, there are great views of the building from the shoreline, including the neighboring Jumeirah Beach hotel and Madinat Jumeirah, which are both also luxury hotels but physically more accessible.

Books and other web sites

Burj Al Arab's web site is at www.burj-al-arab.com.

The architect's personal web site, with interesting details on the building's design and construction, is at www.tomwrightdesign.com.

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