Everything You Don’t Know About the Burj Dubai, er, Khalifa

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When I visited the Burj Dubai last May, it was pretty much done on the outside and damned impressive. But Dubai was still in denial about its finances, though they were shortly disabused of the notion that the emirate was immune to the global economic collapse. Things looked dire indeed until neighboring Abu Dhabi bailed them out to the tune of $10 billion (totaling $25 billion for the year), and it’s only right that when the Burj finally opened yesterday, it was renamed the Burj Khalifa, after Abu Dhabi emir Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (also the president of the United Arab Emirates). Anyway, you know the building’s now the world’s tallest at 2,717 feet, and that it cost $1.5 billion, but do you know who washes the windows?

That would be Cox Gomyl, an Australian outfit that wiped off the tower’s 24,830 windows in advance of the opening ceremonies. They used soap and water like every other window cleaner in history, albeit while standing on like Transformer-like contraptions that emerge from within the Burj Khalifa and ride rails around its carapace.

That might sound a little scary, but consider the plight of Mick Flaherty, the “fearless Geordie” (i.e. Englishman from Newcastle) pictured above who hand-placed the lights on the tower’s very top. His daily work involved “taking five lifts to the 160th floor, climbing through a further seven tiers on vertical ladders, then squeezing into the 1.5m wide spire and out of a hatch.”

The glorious rainbow of British Commonwealth participation continued with a Canadian firm’s design of the Burj Khalifa observation deck. Express elevators will zip up to the deck at a rapid clip of 35 kilometers per hour. Entry to the deck is 100 dirhams, or 210 dirhams if you want to skip the line

Many people will not just skip the line, but will likely skip the tower (and skip Dubai entirely). Disdain for the Burj Khalifa as an architectural object is easy to find, ranging from the Los Angeles Times (“The Burj Dubai is just the latest — and biggest — in this string of monuments to architectural vacancy”) to snobby German hippie-architects (“Nobody knows where the planning hubris of the sheikhs will lead.”)

But hey, there’s an Armani hotel in there! Booking for the 160 guestrooms will allegedly, finally be available later this month, and the hotel will also allegedly, finally open in March.

If you’re looking for something more permanent, the rest of the Burj Khalifa is supposedly 90% sold, though most of those apartments were bought as investments at more than $1,900 per square foot. Fortunately, units on the market can now go for less than half that.

But how safe is it, really, to live in a giant capitalist phallus in the Middle East? “A plane won’t be able to slice through the Burj like it did through the steel columns of the World Trade Center,” assures a construction official. And there are handy “‘refuge floors’ at 25 to 30 story intervals that are more fire resistant and have separate air supplies,” in case a plane only partially slices through your living room.

Unfortunately, all this buoyant optimism didn’t do much for Dubai’s financial markets, which fell 2.6 percent on Monday. Still, there was some happy news: the renaming of the big tower means that the Ramada Downtown Burj Dubai gets a lot more search traffic. No word yet if the Ramada will also change its name to honor Sheik Khalifa.