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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Burj Dubai: 8th Wonder Of The World Or Modern-Day Tower Of Babel?

Burj Dubai (renamed at the opening to Burj Khalifa to appease Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the President of UAE and the Emir of Abu Dhabi) was officially opened this week. It is a gigantic, but very elegantly shaped structure that tapers up to an amazing 2717 feet into the sky. This makes this building at least 50% taller (and more than 50 stories higher) than the next tallest building, the Willis Tower in Chicago.
Burj Dubai height comparison
Work on Burj Dubai began in 2004 and moved ahead rapidly. At times, new floors were being added almost every three days, reflecting Dubai's raging push to reshape itself into a cosmopolitan urban giant packed with skyscrapers.

During the busiest construction periods, some 12,000 workers labored at the tower each day. Low-wage migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent provided much of the muscle for the Burj, and many of Dubai's other building projects.

The tower is billed as a "vertical city" of luxury apartments and offices. It boasts four swimming pools, a private library and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani.

An observation deck dubbed "At the Top" is open to visitors on the 124th floor (at 1654 feet above ground level), with adult tickets starting at 100 dirhams, or just over $27 apiece. The ride to the deck takes about a minute in superfast elevators. On clear days it will be possible to see all the way to the shores of Iran, across the Persian Gulf, from the observation deck.
Burj Dubai view from the observation deck
The Burj breaks at least 15 world records with its opening. These include the fact that it is the tallest free-standing structure ever built, the tallest man-made structure still standing, the tallest building with residential space, and the building with more floors than any other building. The Burj also has the world's highest swimming pool (76th floor), highest observation deck (124th floor), highest gym (123rd floor), highest nightclub (144th floor), and the most elevated place of worship - a mosque (158th floor). It also has the world's fastest elevator to whisk visitors to the observation deck at a maximum speed of over 26 miles per hour.

Some commentators have called the tower a modern-day wonder, not unlike the Pyramids of Giza or the Taj Mahal. In fact, from about 2600 BC to about 700 years back, the tallest free-standing structure in the world was the Great Pyramid at Giza. With the opening of Burj Dubai, the distinction of having the world's tallest structure returns to the Arab world after a 700-year hiatus.
Dubai Skyline
There is no question that the tower is a supremely elegant piece of architecture. It is so easy on the eye that it does not look out of place even though it is surrounded by buildings that are less than a third of its height. The floor plan, a central core surrounded by three lobes, is patterned on the blossom structure of the Hymenocallis flower, a shape that simultaneously creates more visible surface area and reduces the wind pressure acting on buildings this tall. As it tapers upward, one of the three lobes is shifted slightly backward about every eight floors, an effect that is reminiscent of an Islamic spiral minaret, and provides the tower with 26 terraces.
Burj Dubai
Unfortunately, the financial underpinnings of this project are not as strong as its physical underpinnings. Dubai has no oil reserves of its own. It decided to pin its hopes on becoming the commercial capital of the gulf. Its Emir, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, liberalized trade and commerce, inviting many multi-nationals to set up their gulf headquarters in his city-state. He also made Dubai a thriving airline hub and made Dubai's airline, Emirates, a global power to contend with in luxury aviation. Emirates will soon have the world's largest wide-body fleet and serve all 6 inhabited continents.

Palm JumeirahHe made Dubai a playground for the super-rich, giving rise to such projects as the Palm Jumeirah, a complex of islands built out of reclaimed land, in the shape of a giant palm tree. Audacious projects in this vein included the all-suite Burj Al-Arab hotel, the world's second tallest hotel (and supposedly one of only two 7-star hotels in the entire world), built on a private island created exclusively for the project.

Two other mega-projects, The World (a man-made archipelago of 300 islands constructed in the rough shape of a map of the landmasses of the Earth), and The Universe (a planned man-made archipelago in the shape of the Solar System), have been placed on hold and may never be completed.

Dubai also boasts an indoor ski-resort, an air-conditioned beach, and more high-end malls and boutiques than you can shake a stick at.

Unfortunately, all of this was financed with cheap loans, a tower of debt that was taller than all the skyscrapers in the world piled on top of one another. One real estate company after the next was founded -- Dubai Holding, Dubai Properties, Tatweer, Meraas, Sama -- and it soon became difficult to keep track of who was building what and with whose money.

The final bill? Dubai had amassed $80 billion in debt, $50 billion of which, or about two-thirds of its gross domestic product, was scheduled to mature by 2013.

So, what will become of Dubai and all its opulence? Dubai's neighbor, Abu Dhabi, has propped it up for now with huge injections of capital. But how long will the generosity last? And what happens when the oasis of Abu Dhabi's generosity dries up in the harsh financial desert of Dubai?

While the megalomaniacal Maktoum was busy spending other people's money on projects with no lasting value, Abu Dhabi decided to save its money in a massive sovereign fund. The money that was spent was not spent on ostentatious displays of wealth, but on more meaningful projects like an emissions-free eco-city called Masdar, where the emirate plans to conduct research on projects for the post-petroleum age.

How many Smithsonian Institutions could have been financed with $80 billion? How many world-class museums of art, science and/or history could have been financed with $80 billion? How many new drugs could have been invented with $80 billion in research funding? How many starving children could have been saved from disease and death by $80 billion in philanthropy? How many Nobel prizes for the advancement of human achievement could have been endowed with $80 billion? How many Harvard's and MIT's could have been built with $80 billion? How many free books could have been printed and distributed to poor students throughout the world to advance education and learning with $80 billion?

The world will never know! The world will never know because the vision of Maktoum did not extend beyond the cheap and vulgar to true class and sophistication. The world remembers flash only for a couple of years, it is only substance that lasts through the generations.

The Tower Of BabelA long time ago, this region of the world was reputed to be the home of mankind's most magnificent building achievement to date, a gleaming tower in ancient Babylon called the tower of Babel. According to the Bible, the Tower of Babel was much more than a building, but rather a symbol of earthly temptation.

"Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves." These words are in fact from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. But they sound suspiciously like something the Sheikh of Dubai might have uttered a few years back to start Dubai down this road of conspicuous consumption. Will the end-game be similar to that of the tower of Babel, which was supposedly stymied by God as a punishment for man's hubris? Only time will tell . . .

Talk back to me!

2 comments:

Sunita Patel said...

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Daniel said...

i like this wonder of the world I want to visit every place check this for more information 5 wonders of the world - funklist

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