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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa Plaza                                
If someone were to ask you the name of the tallest building in the world, were you not looking at the words before you right now, would you have known? Many Americans would probably have answered proudly, the new Freedom Tower (World Trade Center) in New York. As the chart below illustrates, they wouldn't even be close. They'd miss it by around a thousand feet. Not only that, the chances are they wouldn't even be able to pronounce the name, even though the Burj Khalifa has held that title for around five years now and is pronounced pretty much how it's spelled (BURJ-a Ka-LEEF-a). And just in case anyone should ask, it's in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. As you can see above, it's much more than a thorn-like spike jutting up 2,717 feet from the desert floor (the photo above cuts off about two-hundred feet of its height).
As you can see, the Burj Khalifa is not likely to be surpassed soon.

The Burj Khalifa, seen from ground
level, with its "setbacks," owns almost
every skyscraper record in the world.
In case you might happen to be dropping by Dubai anytime soon, for $27 you can take an elevator to the observation level on the 148th floor, which, for some reason, isn't even close to the top. The building has 163 occupied floors. You can, however stay at the Armani Hotel with rooms starting at $557 per night, which are apparently on the lower fifteen floors of the building. If you're hungry, there's a restaurant on the 122nd floor. After dinner, there's a four-story nightclub on the 144th floor. And for a midnight swim, go to the 76th floor (the second highest pool in the world). The rest of the building is offices and residential areas. The building had 57 double-deck elevators (each with a flat-screen TV), or you can take the stairs to the top...all 2,909 of them. The building opened in 2010. Its nine-hundred condo residential units, located on the firsts 109 floors, sold out within eight hours. Burj Khalifa took six years to construct at a cost of between $1.5-billion and $4-billion (depending upon whom you ask).
Now that we have all the trivia out of the way, the "artist" in charge of this was the American architect, Adrian Smith, of the Chicago firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM). The structural engineer was Bill Baker. Since 1936, SOM has had a reputation as the people to see if you want to build a skyscraper. They practically invented the glass box. They've designed well over a hundred of them including the Willis Tower, The Freedom Tower, the John Hancock Center (Chicago), and two or three more of the taller ones listed on the height chart above.
The Burj Khalifa is nearly twice as tall as the Empire State Building yet because of it's "bundled" structural design, uses less than half the steel.
Notwithstanding SOM's design traditions, the Burj Khalifa is no glass box. It's more of a glass spire. The topmost six floors are, in fact, a glass spire (housing communication equipment) topped by a mere five-foot antenna. Unlike the bundled "tubes" of the Willis Tower, those of the Burj Khalifa, are in fact, rounded, arranged in a "Y" configuration rising from a new structural system called the buttressed core, a hexagonal core reinforced by three buttresses that form the ‘Y' shape. This allows the building to support itself laterally and avoids twisting. Even in high winds, the top of the building sways about one meter. The twenty-seven setbacks sweep upward somewhat like an Arabic spiral minaret allowing for spectacular terraces at various heights moving up the building.
The Armani Hotel lobby--attractive without being garish.
Inside, the building is elegantly restrained, its finishing details rich, yet tasteful, refined, and understated, unlike it's more spectacular neighbor the Burj Al Arab a few miles down the coast. You'll be impressed, mostly by its scale, and clean, Postmodern design, but you'll not be inclined to ooh and ahh. Despite its size and height, inside, the Burj Khalifa is designed very much on a human scale. You can probably thank Giorgio Armani for that. Outside, in the desert heat, there are acres upon acres of non-desert-like greenery, tennis courts, an enormous amount of water (a giant wading pool, in fact), and a playground, all carefully landscaped to compliment the shopping area. The Burj Khalifa is probably the only skyscraper in the world which you enter through a shopping mall...the largest in the world, of course.

It's amazing what a little oil money can buy.

The view from near the top


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