January 04: World’s Tallest Building (For Now)

2016/01/04 § Leave a comment

On this day in 2010, the Burj Khalifa was officially opened.

Rising to the height of 2,723 feet (829.84 m) to the top of its spire, it is the tallest manmade structure in the world.  Height has always mattered, and millennia before the term supertall was coined, people were building to the heavens, just for the sake of form (not function).  For earlier expressions of power, witness the skyscraping in ancient Giza and medieval Beauvais.  All of them are monuments to the aspirations of those who hold the power, or at least the purse-strings (which typically goes together).

Whereas the pyramid and cathedral have been performing their intended function and providing symbolic expression for their builders lo these many years, this needle in the desert is a different story.  Opened at the cost of US$1.5 billion, its rental properties carried stiff price tags as well (in 2016, a 1-bedroom on a lower floor could be had for the bargain price of just under $1 million while a fancypants 5-bedroom penthouse will set you back about $28 million).

The project was established in the time of an expanding economy, when Persian Gulf cities like Dubai seemed to have limitless potential.  Instead, they proved susceptible to the global financial crisis of ca. 2008.  As the building neared completion it was clear that the well had run dry, and the tower required a bailout of its own to pay the bills (not that the thousands of migrant workers on the site were consistently paid–but that’s another story, and one that should not be forgotten in the mythology of this monument).  That is why its name was changed, an event announced only at the grand opening: the once-proud Burj Dubai now honors Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, hereditary ruler of neighbor Abu Dhabi, who has kept his visions in check with his (albeit gigantic) financial resources.

Image: Dubai (from this source)


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