On One Hand

July 11, 2007

Burj Dubai and Al Burj – the Two Towers

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 6:55 pm

In the world of architecture, new records are usually set by nibbling away at old ones. For example, when the Petronas Twin Towers became the tallest buildings in the world in 1998, their pinnacles were only slightly higher than the rooftop of the former recordholder, the Sears Tower, built 25 years earlier in 1973. The tip of each Petronas tower’s spire is 1,486 feet from the ground – just 9 feet higher than the spire of the Empire State Building, which was world record holder for over 40 years, from 1931 to 1972. In all of human history, no new recordholding tower has surpassed the previous recordholder by more than 500 feet.

That is, not until this year. The current world record holder, Tapei 101 in Tapei, Taiwan, stands at 1,671 feet tall. It is about to be beaten by the Burj Dubai (burj is Arabic for tower), currently under construction in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), by over 1,000 feet.

The height Burj Dubai will reach upon its compltetion is still secret, but the tower’s developers promise at least 2,700 feet – which is more than half a mile tall. And not only will the Burj Dubai be the tallest in the world by 1,000 feet; it will also be the tallest in Dubai by more than 1,500 feet, or over half its incredible height. The Burj Dubai is part of a massive development of canals, resorts, bridges and lakefronts constructed by a coalition of American and international real-estate and architecture corporations. The smaller midrises at the foot of the Burj Dubai will pale in comparison to the project’s centerpiece, leaving a naked and solitary tower in the center of a city of relative dwarfs. The layout contrasts the typical American city, where a cluster of several skyscrapers stands together amidst even more numerous mid-rises, for a cohesive appearence.

Meanwhile, just a few miles away from the Burj Dubai is the site for the proposed Al Burj, a skyscraper that is set to rival – or even dwarf – Burj Dubai. Al Burj is planned to be almost 4,000 feet tall, and the centerpiece of a waterfront development the size of an entire city.

The Dubai Waterfront (image) is a series of canals and man-made islands under construction on the coast of Dubai. The side of the development closest to the mainland will be composed of rectangular islands separated by canals, while the portion that extends into the Persian Gulf will be shaped like a gigantic star and crescent – the symbol of Islam – wrapping around another man-made island shaped like a palm tree. On the islands are mid-rise buildings, ranging from 1-3 story homes and mansions to 20 story midrises. Still, nothing will compare to Al Burj, which will stand thousands of feet above anything.

The result is a city dominated by two towers, miles apart but visible to each other as the tallest structures to be found. Each will be a panopticon-like pinnacle over a surrounding city, much like the towers in Lord of the Rings. Beneath the two towers will be a Sim-City like metropollis where everything was laid out, before the simultaneous contstruction of every building in the city, with waterfront property to maximize land value. Renderings of the new Dubai, seen from a birds-eye view, look like they should belong on the cover of a science fiction novel.

Dubai is the most modern and westernized city in the Middle East and quite possibly the most futuristic-looking city in the world. It is also among the most ethnically diverse; the super-wealthy investors who have built the city (including Donald Trump, who is building a tower in Dubai) import labor from India, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and East Asia so that foreigners outnumber local Arabs by a ratio of 9 to 1 (men also outnumber women 2 to 1). That means that the Sunni Islamic goverment rules over huge numbers of Hindus, Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, and Buddhists. The city’s population doubled between 1995 and 2005, and is now more than ten times what it was in 1970, at a total of 1.3 million.

The United States is about to get a new record-holding tower, the Chicago Spire, a residential tower of unusual architecture that will resemble a gigantic drill bit on the banks of Lake Michigan in Chicago. It’s name is of similar construction to Burj Dubai, which is Arabic for “Dubai Tower,” but Chicago’s new centerpiece at 2,000 feet tall will be dwarfed by the Burj by at least 600 feet. Chicago’s spire will also be the only building in the United States that is taller than the new World Trade Center tower in New York, which will consist of several smaller buildings surrounding the centerpiece, Freedom Tower, at 1,776 feet to the tip. The symbolic height of Freedom Tower represents the year the U.S. signed the Declaration of Independence from Great Britian, and I would expect the eventual grand opening of the tower to occur sometime around July 4 several years from now.

Burj Dubai is long into its construction phase and is already 100 stories into the sky, with a pair of metal construction cranes attached to the top. Al Burj is only proposed, without an exact location announced, and the new WTC tower in New York has just broken ground. Preliminary groundbreaking has also begun on the Chicago Spire, but American towers tend to use slower construction periods than Dubaian counterparts. Burj Dubai is planned to open in 2009. Meanwhile, Freedom Tower is set to open in 2011 and the Chicago Spire is estimated to open in 2010.


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