Burj Khalifa: the skyscraper that soars above the Arabian Desert

A tapered skyscraper among the dunes of the Arabian Gulf, Burj Khalifa is an astonishing work of engineering.

Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is a gigantic tower that soars into the sky. Enormous, imposing, a head-turner to be admired from below but, at the same time, light and sophisticated like few other skyscrapers in the world. In short, an unprecedented example of architectural excellence. And this, it should be emphasised, does not only regard Burj Khalifa’s height, inconceivable until a short time ago. Given the size of the building, it’s not surprising that many describe this skyscraper as a vertical city within which there are hundreds and hundreds of private apartments, hotels (starting from the very famous Hotel Armani on the thirty-seventh floor), a huge gym, a swimming pool, numerous restaurants and even a mosque (which, not by chance, holds the record as the highest mosque in the world).

Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the highest in the world

How many floors does the Burj Khalifa have? How high is it? How much did it cost to build? These are the classic questions that are asked about this impressive tower that soars above Dubai’s financial district. Standing 2,722 feet high with a total of 160 floors, the Burj Khalifa is not only the highest skyscraper in the world: it is also the highest structure ever built by man. The cost of its construction fully matches its size. In fact, this skyscraper cost 4.1 billion dollars.

Before the Burj Khalifa tower was built, the highest skyscraper had been the Taipei 101, which, with a height of 1,667 ft, has now also been surpassed by the Shanghai Tower (2,073 ft), the Abraj Al Bait (1,972 ft) and other buildings constructed in recent years. The record set by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa seems safe, however, given that it is nearly 656 ft higher than the second tallest skyscraper in the world.

As mentioned, the Burj Khalifa is also the highest structure ever built by man. The record had previously been held by the famous Warsaw Radio antenna, also known as the Konstantynów Radio Tower, built in 1974 to a height of 2,120 ft. It fell to the ground in August 1991.

Burj Khalifa: construction and architect

Construction of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa began on the 21 September 2004 and was completed – after a few hold-ups – on the 1 October 2009, with the official inauguration ceremony and public opening held a few months later on 4 January 2010.
The project was assigned to the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merril, founded in Chicago in 1936 and known as one of the largest studios in the world. From the start, SOM specialised in designing top-level buildings, soon becoming the leader in the field of skyscrapers. Among projects completed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, in addition to the Burj Khalifa, are the Taipei Twin Towers, the One World Trade Center, the John Hancock Center and the Willis Tower, to name but a few. The team of engineers and architects was coordinated by Adrian Smith. As regards the construction company, the main participant was a joint-venture between the South Korean Samsung C&T, which also built the Taipei 101 among others, the Belgian group Besix and the Arabian company Arabtec.

The huge building is owned by Emaar Properties and its construction was sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates from 11 February 2006, Emir of Dubai and the main shareholder in Emaar Properties.

It is interesting to note that the final height of the skyscraper was not immediately revealed: to mislead any competitors, rumours were spread that the summit of the building was to be 2,683,73 feet, so more than 32,80 feet lower than its actual height.

Just three years after construction began, the emerging Burj Khalifa tower was already starting to beat the first records, surpassing the Willis Tower in February 2007 for the number of floors and thereby becoming the building with the greatest number of floors in the world. The record for height, on the other hand, was attained in 2008, surpassing the 508 metres of the then unrivalled Taipei 101. In that year, however, the fast pace of the skyscraper’s construction works was slowed due to the economic crisis, which also hit the Emirate’s capital: had it not been for these financial difficulties, in fact, Burj Khalifa would probably have been completed by the end of 2008.

Only thanks to the massive economic intervention of the Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan was it possible to complete the works. Indeed, it was to honour the Emir that the skyscraper was called Burj Khalifa, rather than by its original name, Burj Dubai (that is, “Tower of Dubai”).

Some facts about the Burj Khalifa Tower

Practically all the numbers regarding the Burj Khalifa skyscraper are staggering. Not only in terms of its height and cost. To build it, around 12,000 workers were needed to create a structure with a surface area of 3,702,785 square feet. There are 58 lifts and 8 escalators for moving between floors; the lifts travel at 24,85 mph, a lower speed than the high-speed lifts of Taipei 101, which whizz up and down at 37,28 miles an hour. As for materials, overall 3,552,090 square feet of cement, 39,000 tons of steel and more than 1,528,475 square feet of glass were required. In all its grandeur, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa can be seen from a distance of 60 miles.

Specifications of the skyscraper

Made up of three elements arranged around a central nucleus, Burj Khalifa displays a “Y” plan, inspired by the forms of the “hymenocallis” flower, typical of the desert. From it, the tall central core emerges, culminating in its lofty spire.
As regards the interiors of the Burj Khalifa, their design was guided by Nada Andric: the prominent elements are glass, dark, shiny stone, stainless steel and walls in Venetian plaster.