Happy New Year!

… from the Burj Khalifa, in all its finery. Wishing everyone all good things in 2018…

Photos taken during a repeat of the spectacular, record-breaking New Year’s Eve light and laser show

Size isn’t everything

This week, the tremors from an earthquake in Iran reverberated around the UAE, although in my office on the 24th floor of a tower in Media City, only one person actually felt it. (You’re more likely to experience these quakes at the top of tall buildings than at ground level).

I’ve blogged about tall buildings before, because I spend hours of my life waiting for the elevator at work, then riding it cheek-by-jowl with strangers in suits – the only distraction as we all huddle together being the ‘Elevision’ TV monitors.

The Middle East has 10 of the top 30 skyscrapers in the world, and Dubai plays host to the tallest building on Earth – the Burj Khalifa, which, at a height of almost one kilometre (0.6miles), stretches up so neck-craningly high that it’s been suggested Muslims living above the 80th floor should fast for longer during Ramadan because they can still see the sun after it’s set on the ground.

Kingdom Tower
Kingdom Tower: The Burj Khalifa’s competitor

The race is on in the region, however, to pump concrete even higher into the sky. Ground has just been broken on a construction site in Saudi Arabia that, in December 2018, will see the completion of a skyscraper planned to eclipse the Burj Khalifa by at least 173 metres. Kingdom Tower will have 200 floors in total, 160 of which will be habitable, and will form the nucleus of Kingdom City – a new commercial centre to the north of Jeddah.

But while the Kingdom Tower will win in terms of sheer size, the Saudi construction project has a long way to go before it surpasses Dubai’s record-setting superstructure.

Not only is the Burj Khalifa the centrepiece of some pretty impressive firework displays that cascade up and down the tapering, silvery tower, but it also houses the first hotel designed by Giorgio Armani. Most recently, the skyscraper formed the platform for the highest base jump ever when two crazy French daredevils leapt off the building’s 828-metre peak this April.

Beat that, Kingdom Tower!

Infographic provided by YaDig
Infographic provided by YaDig

Up the Burj Khalifa: A tall story

When we lived in the States and used to do road trips along the east coast, from Florida to Virginia, I was always really intrigued by the detours you could take to see things like the world’s second largest ball of yarn and the biggest frying pan.

So, when the tallest building in the world was opened here in Dubai last year, I was keen to add another “tallest” to my list (being careful to let enough people go up before us to test the elevators, of course – especially after a group of terrified tourists got trapped 124 floors above the ground for almost an hour).

The first time we went up the Burj Khalifa was in the daylight; this week we took our first guest of the season to the top in the dark to see the sparkling lights of the city – in the hope that the ‘wow’ factor would make up for the fact that sightseeing right now is like wading around in a giant bowl of steaming hot soup.

I figured it had to be cooler up there – the tapering, silvery tower is almost one kilometre (0.6miles) high, after all. So high that during Ramadan, a cleric said Muslims living above the 80th floor should fast for longer because they could still see the sun after it had set on the ground.

Superlatives aside – highest occupied floor in the world, elevator with the longest travel distance, etc – it’s well worth visiting the outdoor observation deck. Called ‘At The Top’ (I’m not sure why, it’s actually about two-thirds of the way up), you’re high enough to look down on Dubai’s other ‘tall’ buildings and appreciate that everything else is dwarfed by the soaring skyscraper.

The boys loved it because the tiny cars on the ground look like toys and in the dark with their headlights on you get a great view of all the traffic, snaking its way along Dubai’s sprawling roads.

The elevator ride itself is quite an experience, bordering on sci-fi. You stand in a futuristic, darkened space and at first don’t even realise you’re moving. Then you spot the floor numbers rapidly rising and realise you’re climbing at speed – at 10 metres a second, in fact, which means the vertical ascent through 124 floors takes less than a minute – and, yes, your ears do pop!


WINDOW CLEANING: Washing the tower’s 24, 348 windows takes 36 workers three to four months.

ON THE INSIDE: The building houses corporate suites, residential space, the Armani Hotel, 57 elevators, 8 escalators and nearly 3,000 stairs (it’s no wonder some of the people stranded up there last year, when a loud boom was heard and the lift broke, started to panic)

RECORDS SET: World’s highest mosque (158th floor); highest nightclub (144th floor); highest restaurant (At.mosphere on the 122nd floor); and second highest swimming pool (76th floor).

It's a loooong way down

SHOP AT THE TOP: Yes, you can spend money up there on mementos including a Lego Burj kit (pleeeeez Mummy, pleaded BB) and gold bars emblazoned with the Burj’s logo from ‘Gold to Go’ vending machines.

PRICE TAG: Tallest towers don’t come cheap: the total cost for the project was about $1.5 billion. The tower’s completion coincided with Dubai’s financial troubles, which led the emirate to seek multi-billion dollar bailouts from its oil-rich neighbour Abu Dhabi. Subsequently, in a surprise move at the opening ceremony, the tower, originally called Burj Dubai, was renamed Burj Khalifa to honour the UAE president.

CONTROVERSY: Sadly, though, its construction is marred with controversy over the working conditions of the army of labourers from South Asia who spent 22 million man-hours building the tower and somehow managed to pump concrete so high into the sky.

Inauguration on 4th Jan 2010
SHOWPIECE: On December 31st, spectacular fireworks, accompanied by lasers and lights, were set off from the Burj Khalifa, setting yet another world record – the highest New Year fireworks display in the world.

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