One of the odder, more complicated moments in the history of architectural symbolism will arrive Monday with the formal opening of the Burj Dubai skyscraper. At about 2,600 feet high — the official figure is still being kept secret by developer Emaar Properties — and 160 stories, the tower, set back half a mile or so from Dubai’s busy Sheikh Zayed Road, will officially take its place as the tallest building in the world.

Designed by Adrian Smith, a former partner in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Burj Dubai is an impossible-to-miss sign of the degree to which architectural ambition — at least the kind that can be measured in feet or number of stories — has migrated in recent years from North America and Europe to Asia and the Middle East. It is roughly as tall as the World Trade Center towers piled one atop the other. Its closest competition is Toronto’s CN Tower, which is not really a building at all, holding only satellites and observation decks, and is in any case nearly 900 feet shorter.

Monday’s ribbon-cutting, though, could hardly come at a more awkward time. Dubai, the most populous member of the United Arab Emirates, continues to deal with a massive real estate collapse that has sent shock waves through financial markets around the world and forced the ambitious city-state, in a significant blow to its pride, to seek repeated billion-dollar bailouts from neighboring Abu Dhabi. Conceived at the height of local optimism about Dubai’s place in the region and the world, this seemingly endless bean-stock tower, which holds an Armani Hotel on its lower floors with apartments and offices above, has flooded Dubai with a good deal more residential and commercial space than the market can possibly bear.

More

Christopher Hawthorne
Los Angeles Times

Advertisements