Posted by: adoseofliberty | January 6, 2010

The Height of Folly

On Monday the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (previously referred to as the Burj Dubai), was officially inaugurated in Dubai.  The skyscraper is 828 meters and dwarfs the previous record-holder, Taipei 101, by an astonishing 320 meters.  The tower has over 160 floors.

In a glitzy firework-lit ceremony, the city-state’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum unveiled a plaque commemorating the event and also announced that the $1.5 billion structure has a new name: the Burj Khalifa.

Named after Khalifa Bin Zayed, the president of the United Arab Emirates — and ruler of Abu Dhabi, which recently bailed out debt-ridden Dubai to the tune of $10 billion — the tower was officially recorded as 828 meters tall, adding 10 meters on to previous height claims.

There were many ground-breaking techniques used in the construction of the Burj Khalifa by the architects at Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

“As with any project, SOM’s architects and engineers learned a great deal and are ready to apply this to the next world’s tallest building as it is certainly possible to go taller,” it said.

Not everyone is showering praise and admiration on the new building icon:

“Dubai doesn’t really need to have to build tall asides from prestige purposes,” Jim Krane, author of “City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism” told CNN in a recent interview.

“If you look at it, it’s a really bad idea. It uses as much electricity as an entire city. And every time the toilet is flushed they’ve got to pump water half a mile into the sky,” he said.

The telescopic shape also presents problems of a more practical nature Krane says.

“The upper 30 or 40 floors are so tiny that they’re useless, so they can’t use them for anything else apart from storage. They’ve built a small, not so useful storage warehouse half a mile in the sky,” he said.

The Economist does a comparison of record-breaking skyscrapers and the economic slump of the countries in which they were built that has followed completion (see picture above).  The Dubai tower follows the same trend:

It is in danger, however, of being seen as the height of folly. Construction began in 2004, when the economy of the United Arab Emirates was growing at 9.7%. It is forecast to grow by just 2.4% this year and probably shrank by 0.2% in 2009. This is not the first tower to be planned in the good times and then opened in a slump. Countries home to many of the world’s highest buildings (when they opened) saw their economies slump in the years between the start of construction and the official opening.

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