Who’s the Tallest Now?

Of course the buzz around my office, and I’m sure many other architecture offices, lately has been the new Burj Khalifa which opened last week in Dubai as the world’s tallest building (CLICK HERE for related article). At a height of 2,717 feet, it crushed the previous record holder, Taipei 101 which measures 1,671 ft. It didn’t stop there though, it beat out a TV mast in North Dakota (2,063 ft) for tallest structure, has the most stories of any building, the highest occupied floor and the highest observation deck.

With this great feat of structural ingenuity and design, come quite a few questions. The first is one of economical feasibility. Does it seem odd that it is opening during this time of great recession? This building was not without its financial problems. In fact, it might not have been completed without being bailed out by neighboring ruler Sheik Khalifa bin Sayed Al Nahyan, hence the new name of the tower. It is not alone though, according to an article in The Christian Science Monitor, nine of the buildings that have become the world’s tallest building over the past century were finished during economic hardship. This makes sense since right before most downturns in the economy, it is at its greatest. During these times of heightened economy, these great architectural and structural wonders are realized and started just before the bottom falls out.

The second question is one of design. It’s not unusual for the aesthetics of these structural masterpieces to fall under great scrutiny. It’s no secret that when the Eiffel Tower became the world’s tallest building in 1889, many in Paris thought it to be an eyesore. Other tall buildings that received much criticism were the World Trade Center Towers with its blocky silhouette and the Shanghai World Financial Center that looks like a giant bottle opener. For the new Burj Khalifa, though, I have yet to here any negativity about the design. Instead I’ve heard much praise of the design including comments like “slender needle reaching high into the sky” and “a giant sand castle in the sky.” Personally I enjoy the look of the new tower and think it’s great that structural ingenuity and architectural aesthetics were able to come together and create such a great design.

The final question is one of safety. Is the building structurally sound? By increasing the height of the world’s tallest building by over 1,000 feet, one of my coworkers said it’s just asking to fail. According to the developer, the tower’s reinforced concrete structure makes it stronger than steel-frame skyscrapers. Only time will tell, but I hope this building will stand for a long time to come.