(Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images)

The Burj Dubai, by far the tallest building in the world, will open as planned next month in its namesake city. It has topped out four stories taller than half a mile high—2,684 feet—a chilling figure that was known to very few until it was reached. The tower’s Chicago-based architect, Adrian Smith, confided three years ago that this secrecy was not a marketing gimmick (though it did stir up the press); it was a practical response to some brutal intramural competition. Emaar Properties, the Dubai-based developer that built the tower, was trying to best its rival, Nakheel, most famous for its land-reclamation projects, the Palm islands and the World, which dredged up miles of luxury from the silt of the Persian Gulf. As soon as the final height of the Burj Dubai was known, Emaar feared, Nakheel would unveil plans for something even more ambitious.

Sure enough, as the final height of the Burj Dubai became clear, renderings of the expected counterbuilding were made public. Nakheel’s response, defiantly named Al Burj (The Tower), had a projected height of 4,600 feet.

Savor that in your mind for a moment—sunset, a warm breeze, white clouds wrapping a glass-and-steel spire three and a half Twin Towers tall—because it is never going to happen: Nakheel is the development arm of Dubai World, the state-owned investment company that triggered financial panic around the world two weeks ago when it announced it would seek forbearance on up to $59 billion in debt. Real estate in Dubai had hardly been immune to the general downturn—Nakheel stopped work on its nearly mile-high tower last January—but this latest economic disaster emphatically marks the end of a golden age for those who dream in buildings.


Philip Noble
New York