At the Top of the World: Burj Khalifa

At the Top of the World: Burj Khalifa

Twilight falls in Dubai

How many Middle Eastern Kings (also called emirs) does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one. But it will have the tallest and most luxurious building in the world around it! And it will cost about USD $1.5 billion. Think that is too much for a light bulb? Not when the bulb is in Burj Khalifa. Called Burj Dubai prior to its inauguration in early 2010, it is currently the tallest and grandest building in the world. The title for the tallest building was previously held by Taipei 101. The building has returned the location of Earth’s tallest freestanding structure to the Middle East, where the Great Pyramid of Giza had claimed this achievement for almost four millennia before being surpassed in 1311 by Lincoln Cathedral in England. Apart from being a (much loved) monster among buildings, it also holds many other records like having the highest nightclub, highest restaurant, highest vertical pump, highest outdoor observation deck and the highest point (a very rich) man touched while having a firm physical connection to the ground. It also probably holds the record for being one of those places the ridiculously rich actually think about before going to.


Construction began in late 2004 and the project was contracted by Samsung C&T (fun fact: they were also involved in the construction of the next two tallest buildings in the world). The original plan was to make it a residential building but it ended up having hotels, nightclubs, corporate suites and extremely rich people who are always in the pursuit of newer ways to spend their money. The design of Burj Khalifa is derived from patterning systems embodied in Islamic architecture. The architecture features a triple-lobed footprint, an abstraction of the Hymenocallis flower. The tower is composed of three elements arranged around a central core. The modular, Y-shaped structure, with setbacks along each of its wing provides an inherently stable configuration for the structure, maximizes views of the Arabian Gulf and provides good floor plates for residential. A number of helical levels incrementally reduces the cross section of the tower as it spirals upwards. The central core emerges at the top and ends in a sculpted spire. The spiral minaret spirals and grows slender as it rises. Viewed from the base or the air, Burj Khalifa is evocative of the onion domes prevalent in Islamic architecture. Although much taller than the empire state building, Burj required almost half the steel used in Empire state building because of an innovative tubular steel structure used here.


The exterior cladding of Burj Khalifa consists of reflective glazing, and aluminum and textured stainless steel spandrels panels with vertical tubular fins. The design of the cladding system is to withstand Dubai’s unbearable summer temperatures. Additionally, the exterior temperature at the top of the building is thought to be 6 °C cooler than at its base. According to Wikipedia, over 26,000 glass panels were used in the exterior cladding of Burj Khalifa. Of course, we see all this in Mission impossible: Ghost Protocol (you know, the movie in which Tom Cruise is almost killed…wait… that happens in almost all his movies). What we miss out in the movie are the swimming pools. There are two swimming pools in Burj Khalifa. One on the 43rd floor and the other on the 76th floor. The one on the 76th floor is a zero-entry outdoor swimming pool, which basically means there are no rails or tiled floor to hold onto while dunking in. A 304-room Armani Hotel, the first of four by Armani, occupies 15 of the lower 39 floors. Most of the remaining floors are occupied by corporate offices and suites, except for the 122nd, 123rd and 124th floor where the At.mosphere restaurant, sky lobby and an indoor and outdoor observation deck is located respectively. Over 1,000 pieces of art from prominent Middle Eastern and international artists adorn Burj Khalifa. Many of the pieces were specially commissioned by the Emir to be a tribute to the spirit of global harmony. The pieces were selected to link cultures and communities.


The observation deck on the 124th floor is what actually makes you feel like you are at the top of the world. Christened ‘At The Top’, it is the 2nd highest (sad that it could not beat that record) outdoor observation deck in the world. The deck features the Behold Telescope, an augmented reality device which allows visitors to view the surrounding landscape in real-time, and also to view previously saved images such as those taken at different times of day or under different weather conditions. This device attracts such a large crowd that the officials often find it difficult to manage them. Tickets are sold on the spot and also over the internet. The ticket over the internet has a 75% discount tag attached to it to help manage the crowd better.

Burj Khalifa, in all its splendor and glory, is a testament to the beautiful architecture and engineering that went hand in hand to create what can only be called one of the most beautiful of creations by man because it sets the benchmark for others. Of course, there are people who complain that it is too expensive for them therefore out of their reach. But I believe that is the way it has to be because you have to earn your way to the top of the world. It gives you a much better sense of how big the world really is. And to experience that, what better place can be there than Burj Khalifa, which reaches out so high into the sky that it pokes the clouds with its spire, which by the way, is as tall as a skyscraper by itself.

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