Thursday, February 18, 2010

Burj Khalifa - Dubai

Burj Khalifa (Dubai) 2,717 feet, a few feet shy of being twice as tall as the Empire State Bldg (1,454 ft.).

Architecturally, I think this building wins over ANY modern tall building. This $1.5 billion edifice opened on January 4. Unfortunately, it had to be shut down on February 7 after an elevator car full of tourists became trapped between floors for 45 minutes. No reopening date has been set. This is yet another humiliation for Dubai, to which many people had arranged special trips solely to be able to visit this building. On February 18, the web site for purchasing tickets to the world’s highest viewing platform (three quarters of the way up) says this:
“Please be advised that online tickets to At the Top are temporarily on hold due to maintenance at the attraction.”

Opening night fireworks display.

In a brief statement responding to questions, building owner Emaar Properties blamed the closure on "unexpected high traffic," but then suggested that electrical problems were also at fault. A spokeswoman for Emaar was unable to provide further details or rule out the possibility of foul play. It is known that some new and untested technologies are incorporated into the structure. A method of efficiency is achieved through high voltage supplies of electrical energy, in contrast to the common low voltage supply in most contemporary designs. High voltage allows for less lost energy when powering up the building.

However, a newspaper reported that visitors to the Burj Khalifa's observation deck had to be evacuated by a service lift after one of the public lifts broke down, stranding passengers for 45 minutes. "Visitors queueing to descend from the observation deck heard a crash and the sound of breaking glass from the lift shaft. Dust then billowed back into the room through the small gaps in the lift shaft doors. The 15 passengers inside the elevator were left stranded for 45 minutes before they were rescued by staff who dropped ladder into the shaft and helped them climb out of the observation deck."

Early visitors say that the attraction just wasn’t ready, observing that the windows were caked with dust from sand storms, and that no other part of the building was open. The opening was originally set for last September, but the eventual opening date just after New Year's was meant to coincide with the anniversary of the Dubai ruler's ascent to power.

The newly built skyscraper is 1,000 feet taller than its next tallest competitor (Toronto's CN Tower) and bears a striking resemblance to a 1956 theoretical design by Frank Lloyd Wright for a mile-high tower (unbuildable).

The structure contains 57 elevators and 3,000 underground parking spaces (it is impossible to get around Dubai without a car). More than 1,000 condominium residences are contained in the building that will also offer 160 hotel rooms in the coming months. During the peak of construction, as many as 12,000 workers were on site. From the building's "At the Top" visitor level, computerized telescopes allow visitors to zoom all the way to street level (see rendering below), and there’s an outdoor terrace to take in the air at 124 stories. On clear days the vista spreads out for 60 miles.

Dubai is one of seven sheikdoms that form the United Arab Emirates. Tourism accounts for 20% of its economy, and Dubai had hoped that Burj Khalifa would be a legitimate major draw, a much needed shot in the arm to help resuscitate its flagging economy, based heavily on the sale of condominiums to absentee owners seeking a haven for flight capital. 65% of Dubai's 2 million residents are foreign born. In light of the faltering world economy, and because Dubai imprisons debtors, many have simply fled the country, abandoning their homes and luxury cars, even Rolls Royces and Bentleys. Over three thousand vehicles were abandoned at the airport in 2009.

Most of the building’s three million square feet of interior space is given over to condos and hotel rooms; office space is a distant third. A one bedroom 850-sq-ft condo is marketed at $2,975,000. And boy, are they not selling. Over-built Dubai has led to reports that Burj Khalifa is “the latest in a string of monuments to architectural vacancy.”

The fountain show can be seen in this video:

By the way, the fountains and the lake adjacent were designed and built by WET, the same company that created the fountains at Bellagio, Las Vegas. Only the lake in Dubai is 25% larger, and the water cannons can shoot up to a few yards shy of 500 feet (Las Vegas is just shy of 300 feet). The price tag for the 900-ft-long attraction, including the lake, was $217 million. The fountain show is timed at 20-minute intervals.

As if recent assassinations, a financial meltdown and exploding elevators in the world's tallest building were not enough, Dubai faced a new crisis on February 25 – the world's most dramatic water leak. The 2.5 million walk-through aquarium, which houses 33,000 fish, leaked so much water through a crack in the structure that the mall (directly opposite Burj Khalifa and adjacent to the dancing fountain feature) in which it is housed had to be evacuated. At first the official spokesmen for the mall denied that there was a leak, saying that the spilled water was the result of a valve malfunction, but cell phone photos revealed water spewing from a significant crack in the aquarium wall.

Burj Khalifa, originally named Burj Dubai, mimics the Y shape of the 1989 Mirage Resort in Las Vegas (a mere 30 stories). Essentially, Dubai has replicated all the top Las Vegas attractions, including the walk-through aquarium at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, the over-the-top swimming pools at Caesar’s Palace, the fountains of Bellagio and the theme-park shopping malls found along the strip. And, just like Vegas, they’ve gone bust doing it.

Because Dubai lacks the oil resources of its neighbors, many wonder how the emirate will produce the millions of gallons of fresh water its developments, including its famous palm tree-shaped artificial islands, require every day, where it will produce its future electricity needs, and where its garbage will go. As an escape from these ponderous thoughts, visit the building's web link below.