Today, Burj Khalifa Is the Tallest Structure in the World (Or Is It?)

The Oz-like Burj Khalifa in Dubai officially opened today, succeeding Taipei 101 as the world's tallest building. There is no disputing its preposterous height: At 169 stories, or 2,717 feet, the $1.5 billion tower on the edge of Dubai's business district stands a little more than half a mile high, roughly twice the height of the late World Trade Center twin towers. But not everyone agrees that it qualifies as the tallest manmade structure. And suppose it does? Given how egregiously the Dubai boom has cratered, it's hard not to think of the building as a monument to the false economies of the 2000s.

Countries on the verge of economic ascendancy can be relied on to build the tallest structure in the world as an expression of their ambition. It was true of America when the Empire State Building topped out in 1931, as it was Kuala Lumpur in the late 1990s and Taiwan in the mid-2000s. It was almost inevitable that the Middle East would steal the crown. The problem, of course, is that over the past six months Dubai has become the poster child of the maligned borrow-and-build approach to prosperity. Shares of Emaar Properties, the tower's developer, have dropped 86% since Dubai real estate peaked five years ago. The structure had previously been known as Burj Dubai, but at the ribbon cutting ceremony held this morning it was officially renamed Burj Khalifa in honor of Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, which has repeatedly bailed out Dubai during its financial meltdown.

As Christopher Hawthorne pointed out in the Los Angeles Times, 90% of the tower's 1,044 condo apartments have been sold, but most were bought as investments and will likely go unoccupied for the time being. The first residents are supposed to move in later this month, but the real-estate crash may cause a good number of buyers to abandon their deals. Nor will there be much demand for the thirty-seven floors set aside for offices. Burj Khalifa may be a shining spiral edifice on the outside, but it's interiors will be 3.7 million square feet of emptiness, a vertical ghost town. It's the architectural equivalent of Pamela Anderson's breasts or Goldie Hawn's surgically plumped lips—a puffed up esthetic for an era of disingenuous.

With today's ribbon cutting Burj Khalifa, which was designed by the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, officially became the tallest building. However, it may not be the tallest structure, depending on the type of measurement. The Ursa tension leg platform (pictured above), an oil production facility 130 miles southeast of New Orleans owned by Shell Oil, has a total height of 4,285 feet from the sea floor. However, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, an obscure coterie of engineers that presides over height statistics, does not consider an oil platform a building because it extends underwater, has minimal habitation and supports itself with tethers. So for now, Dubai holds the record, however dubious it may seem.

[Top image by Leandro's World Tour; graphic via Wikipedia]

Add New Comment


  • StefOnPointe

    I worked at Landor then they designed the Burj Dubai branding. Emaar Properties knows that it will not hold on to the mantle of world's tallest building but is using that now given it's PR possibilities. The long-term ambition/intention is for this building to have iconic status of the likes of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, etc. And I for one think they will achieve that!


  • Mark Woodward

    There are many amazing achievements that you could have mentioned about this structure. Defying wind tolerances, observation deck on 124th floor, architectural hurdles, etc, etc, etc! I think your article would be better represented in the tabloid press. Let have some intelligent reporting, its so much easier to jump on the band wagon.

  • Steve MacLeod

    Kind of a sad article to be so dismissive. Why not let Dubai have the title for a while. Just say congratulations. It is the tallest building in the world. (period). Here in Canada we had the tallest man made structure,The CN tower for over 30 years. It has been surpassed by this building in Dubai. Yes a tower is not a building but congratulations any way to the designers builders, workers and to the Sheik and his people

  • Marcus

    Wow! I've seen this on tv and I didn't expect that the building has this height. Dubai finally at number one because of this tallest building around the world.


  • Sadiq Sikandar

    The winner takes it all..and Burj Khalifa has just done that. It has scaled new heights of human desires and turned it into a steel and concrete reality. The economic cycles are to come and go but this architectural marvel has created history that is forever to last. Salute to all those involved in this incredible feat!

  • caroline park

    Wouldn't it be nice if "success" = knowing that "he who dies with the most toys," dies? if having the brains to make money means knowing that high-speed consumption is not the way to sustain it? I suppose that is asking for too much discipline on our behalf...