Burj Khalifa (known as Burj Dubai before completion)
1 Emaar Boulevard

Downtown Dubai

Dubai, UAE

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) 2009

The Burj Khalifa was built to be, by a big margin, the tallest building in the world, at 828 meters (2,716 feet). To achieve this height it is based on the structural design of a 'buttressed core', not previously used for skyscrapers despite its elegant simplcity. The plan of the building is a symmetrical Y-shape, and and each of the three branches of the Y acts as a buttress for the other two. Each is also set back in a series of steps that progress in a spiral round the building, creating the graceful organic-looking spire that give the Burj its distinctive profile.


Like many projects in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa is a pursuit of the superlative for superlative's sake. It is so much taller than its surrounding buildings that there is no sense of trees competing in height for light, or more mundanely of building density that rewards height as an efficient use of overcrowded space. This is a piece of land that set out to make itself, as its advertising hoardings claimed early in construction, 'the most exciting two square kilometers on the planet', while there remains undeveloped desert a few hundred meters a way.


This superlative in a vacuum, arguably the pinnacle of the era of iconic architecture, is a weakness of the project. There is no sense of space in the immediate vicinity of the tower. The 'foothills' of the Burj, in the new self-styled 'Downton Dubai', are characterless blocks where the construction cranes provide the only visual interest. The gap between the extraordinary design and engineering achievement, and the mundane reality of visiting, is as disappointing here as it is in the 'trunk' of the Palm Jumeirah down the coast.



It is the same superlative in a vacuum, however that makes the tower itself so successful as iconic architecture on its own terms. No previous claimant to the title of the world's tallest building has had the same powerful grace. The buttressed core with its spiraling setbacks give relatively little floor space in the upper levels, and so less commercial return on height compared with its blockier peers; but they give the floor-plan shape of a three-petaled desert flower, as well as the vertical spiral, that give the building's form symbolic as well as aesthetic beauty.


Dubai is privileged to be able to build something of this scale and design it with such priorities, and in the Burj Khalifa it has used that privilege well.



Simon Glynn 2010

Aerial photograph © Wijnand van Till 2009

Skyline photograph © Kopi Kocok 2010

(updated 2011)


How to visit


The Burj Khalifa is in the new Downtown Dubai, adjacent to Dubai Mall, and easily reached both from the Sheikh Zayed Road and from its own metro stop. Obviously it can be seen from many places in Dubai.


You can visit the observation deck at the top of the tower. The entrance for this is from inside Dubai Mall. It is cheaper to book in advance for a timed visit. Details are at www.burjkhalifa.ae.




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