Partly because I had too may pictures of Dubai, and partly because I was tired of writing a few days ago, I came up with the rule that the tallest building in the world gets its own post on my blog. As a Canadian, I should feel disappointed by this, as the tower replaced Toronto’s CN tower as the tallest free standing structure in the world, as well as the tower having the highest restaurant in the world. However, I am satisfied in living in a country with only the second highest restaurant, but a gender ratio that is not 1.5 man per woman.
So there you have it, the 828 m tall Burj Khalifa. It was initially named Burj Dubai, or “Tower of Dubai”, but it has since been renamed Burj Khalifa, which translates loosely as “Tower-of-the-dude-in-the-Emirate-next-door-who-saved-us-from-certain-bankruptcy-in-2009”.
The picture from the ground doesn’t really do it any justice. To be frank, since it stands almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building, it is hard to do it justice in a picture. Aerial pictures are better, but I was not about to rent a helicopter to get one, so here is a heavily “Photoshopped” picture I took on a hazy morning through a dirty Fly Dubai airplane window. The big flat structure on its top right is the Dubai Mall, the largest in the world, with 1,200 stores and other businesses, spread over half a million square meters of floor space. The whole area of 2 square kilometres, including the large fountain and the adjacent buildings were developed as a single project: “Downtown Dubai”. This kind of major project characterizes Dubai, compared to the “one of” tower projects you might see in cities where private businesses have to finance such things.
The tower includes a combined indoor/outdoor observation platform. You reach it through a two-stop elevator, which takes you up 125 floors in a minute. “Try to swallow” said the elevator operator. This terrible video gives you a vague idea of what it looks like, and demonstrates very clearly how poorly a GoPro camera performes in the dark.
From the exterior platform, you can see the 38-ish floors remaining, plus all the technical, unoccupied floors (another 46). When the platform opened, it was the tallest in the world. But that only lasted 9 months, when it was beaten by Shanghai’s Canton Tower. And that is the problem with this kind of “who can pee the farthest” competitions. Dubai was probably right that such a spectacular structure would help put their city on the map. After all, would I have paid $35 to go up the 15th highest tower in the world? Probably not.
But how long will this triumph last? It used to last quite long. The last time the tallest structure in the world was in the Middle-East, it retained the title for an incredible 39 centuries. But the Great Pyramid of Giza’s rule ended in 1311, and things have changed quite a bit since then. Now, this kind of glory lasts not long at all. As soon as next year, the relatively unknown Chinese city of Changsha (pop 7M!), may beat some of the records, although the project is apparently facing difficulties. In any case, by 2017, Saudi Arabia should beat all the records with its Kingdom Tower, planned to reach a height of one kilometre. Within this decade, several countries plan to complete towers in excess of a kilometre, including Brazil, Kuwait, Bahrain and even Azerbaijan. Of course, not to be outdone, Dubai has proposed the Dubai City Tower, a 400 storeys, 2.4 km high building tentatively planned for 2025.
The view from the top. Some cool telescopes allow you to see the world out there or, with the flick of a switch, what it would look like during the day, or under better weather. It was designed by Montreal firm gsmprjct°, which has been a big design player ever since Montreal’s Expo 67.
And this horrible iPhone photo shows my foot, sticking under the 124th story balcony railing. In fact, it’s more than a railing, more like a glass wall, but with a few openings, convenient for photography.
The building was designed by American firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and build by Korea’s Samsung’s construction branch. The Canadian firm RWDI built this wind testing model with 1,140 individual sensors and contributed to many structural changes necessary to minimize the risks of collapse due to the region’s powerful winds. So, what did the Emiratis do? What didn’t they do? Hum… Well… Hum… Hey! Did you know a thirsty camel can drink 100 litres of water in under 10 minutes? Incredible!
Shortly after completion, Downtown Dubai was a financial fiasco. But, now that the 2009 scare has receded, the Tower, the Mall and adjacent buildings are apparently close to fully sold or rented. The Mall is certainly very, very busy. People seem to come from all over the world, although the number of Russians is surprising, with cafes displaying outdoors menus in Arabic and Russian only.
What I don’t know is how much money they are spending, on average. Some buy literally millions of dollars of merchandize in this hub of luxury shopping, while others like me buy the $35 ticket to the observation platform, and dinner at the food court. But wether the project is viable or not, it is certainly not a abject failure as some had predicted.
Finally, as everywhere else in the region, malls and other public places exhort tourists to dress modestly.
To this, the Russian girls answer a strong and united “Niet!”. I know it’s a bit of a stereotype, but trust me, there are some statistics behind this. Sorry about the shaky picture; I don’t usually take close-up shots of women’s behinds in public places!
And that was it for the Arabic Peninsula; starting with a Kuwaiti “scientist” pretending to work and ending with the legs of a Russian girl.
Next, not so far but very different Sri Lanka.