Sunday, December 6, 2009

Towering follies the Dubai architecture you couldn’t make up

The kilometre-high skyscraper, the underwater hotel, the cloud on stilts ... Steve Rose mourns the eye-popping erections that should never have been commissioned

Pundits have been lining up to say "I told you so" over the bursting of Dubai's construction bubble, so now it's my turn. I did tell you so, a year ago. But what now? In architectural terms, Dubai has surely been the story of the decade. We're just not sure if it's a comedy, a tragedy or some surreal, hallucinogenic fairy tale.

On the other hand, the Dubai experiment has undeniably expanded the realms of what it is possible to build. Before the Palm Jumeirah and its ilk, or The World, who would have contemplated works on such a scale? Reclaiming land from the sea is nothing new, but only Dubai had the imagination to make pretty patterns with its coastline, to shape the earth to such a colossal degree that you need Google Earth to appreciate it.

Other countries have evidently been eyeing Dubai's coastline, too. In Russia, for example, Eric van Egeraat has designed Sochi Island, an artificial resort island in the Black Sea. Bahrain is developing a similar type of offshore resort, and Abu Dhabi is making good use of its previously undeveloped islands, such as Saadiyat Island, which will soon house a very different collection of wonders to Dubai in the form of new museums and galleries designed by Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel and Tadao Ando. Even Boris Johnson's recent proposals for a new airport in the Thames estuary had a touch of Dubai about them.

Foreign architects have had a riot in Dubai, at least until recently. It's been the place where you can get away with anything. No matter how outlandish or oversized the idea, no one seemed to be saying no, and somebody else was always paying. As a result, the emirate has been waging some sort of architectural arms race with itself, each new development trying to outdo the last, while the rest of the world looked on with a mix of disdain and envy.

The Dubai dream was ultimately unsustainable on many levels, environmental as well as financial, and it's safe to assume that most of the crazy ideas proposed for the city will never happen now, given Dubai's dire credit situation. So here are some of the craziest highlights from a future that will probably never arrive – but, you never know, still just might.

Nakheel Harbour and Tower

Bad timing for SOM's Burj Dubai, which is due to open on 4 January 2010, just when a conspicuous symbol of Dubai's hubris was needed. But in the Dubai spirit of one-upmanship, plans were afoot to build an even taller skyscraper with an even shorter name: Al Burj. Originally designed by Pei Partnership, the tower was taken over by Australian architects Woods Bagot, and renamed Nakheel Harbour and Tower after its backers, the state-owned property group Nakheel, which is at the heart of Dubai's current woes. The sentiment behind this stupendous tower seemed to be: "I see your 800-metre-high Burj Dubai, and raise it to over 1km. How d'you like that?"

Trump International Hotel and Tower

Surely a frontrunner in any competition for the ugliest skyscraper the world has ever seen, this 60-odd-storey atrocity, designed by Atkins, was supposed to be the centrepiece of the famous Palm Jumeirah and super-luxurious addition to the Trump brand. It looks like it was inspired by one of those 1980s vases you find in a pound shop. Mercifully, construction has been on hold for a year or so.

Dubai Towers

In the same way the peacock's tail evolved into a flamboyantly useless appendage, Dubai skyscrapers have had to resort to ludicrous contortions to stand out. From the "ignore them, they're just trying to get attention" school of design comes a quartet of bendy skyscrapers supposedly inspired by the movement of candlelight – or perhaps Jedward's hair.

Hydropolis Underwater Hotel

Why reach for the sky when you can plumb the depths? This German-designed scheme would offer 220 bubble-shaped transparent suites, 66 metres below the surface, so guests can enjoy a privileged view of Dubai's spectacular coastal dredging operations.

The Dynamic Tower

A nice idea: each of this tower's 70 floors revolves independently around its central core, so everyone lives in a revolving apartment and gets a 360-degree view of Dubai's cranescape. And from the outside, the building changes shape all the time. And it's all powered by green energy from wind turbines and solar panels. All perfectly possible, architect David Fisher assures a sceptical world.

The Dubai Opera House

Not even Dubai had the stomach for French superstar Jean Nouvel's idiosyncratic formal experiment – a strange cross between an oil rig, a greenhouse and a psychedelic light show. Nouvel's pretentious accompanying text didn't help: "It is a little like the clouds. Each person can see what attracts them, what makes them question. The architect plays only the role of provocateur, claiming innocence." Nouvel is at least building the new Louvre, in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, which promises to be stunning.

The Cloud

A poetic but preposterous scheme imagining a resort landscape of lakes, palaces and floating gardens, raised 300 metres in the air on slanting columns. The brainchild of Lebanese architect Nadim Karam, it's been described as "a bridge suspended between dreams and reality". Why not put a gigantic pie on stilts instead?

Waterfront City

A whole city for 1.5 milliion inhabitants on an artificial island twice the size of Hong Kong. Rem Koolhaas's OMA were behind the plan. Reckoning that nobody in the Gulf watched Star Wars, he put a replica of the Death Star as its centrepiece – or was that his idea of architectural satire?


A vast landscape of leisure, twice the size of Florida's Disney World, proposed for the interior of the emirate. Highlights include four theme parks, five golf courses, life-size replicas of some of the world's landmarks, a zillion hotels, a Beauty Museum, and, of course, another "world's largest shopping mall".

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dubai Debt Debacle Validation of "Skyscraper Index

In light of the current concern over Dubai’s debt, the inevitable questions are beginning. Might the market have seen this coming?

Sure, looking back on it, it seems like there were probably some red flags.

For example, that indoor ski slope, in hindsight, looks a bit, shall we say, frothy. And yes, a particularly prescient observer might have cited the creation of that string of palm-shaped islands off Dubai’s coast, as a manifestation of irrational exuberance.

But if you were looking for a reason to get worried about Dubai over the past few years, you needed only look at the Burj Dubai — the world’s tallest skyscraper — according to the “skyscraper index.”

Credited to a 1999 report penned by Andrew Lawrence, then an analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort, the skyscraper index argues that there is a correlation between the construction of the world’s tallest buildings and the impending end of business cycles.

Back in 2006, BNY Mellon’s Chris Sheldon, director of investment strategy, applied the skyscraper indicator to Dubai:

Groundbreakings for the worlds tallest buildings typically have taken place after a long period of sustained economic growth. Optimism is high, credit is easy to obtain, and the sky is the limit. A new worlds tallest building also has proven to be a predictor of a booms end. Returning to Dubai, the Burj Dubai, at 2,313 feet tall, will be 40% higher than the current record holder, Taipei 101, which was completed in 2004.

A story in the Journal in August pegged the completed height of the Burj Dubai, or Dubai Tower, at 2,684 feet. Interestingly, another Dubai skyscraper, called the Nakheel Tower, was supposed to be even taller than the Burj Dubai. But construction was suspended back in January, as the company worked to adjust the plans “‘to better reflect the current market trends and match supply with demand.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Burj Dubai Photos

Here are pictures and videos of the 7 star Burj Dubai, the tallest skyscraper in the world surpassing the KNLY-TV mast and costing an estimated $1billion to build.

Towering high above the Dubai skyline, Burj Dubai, the world's tallest man-made construction, edges closer to completion.

These stunning aerial and exclusive interior images provide a glimpse into the lavish creation which has cost an estimated UD$1 billion to build, with a further three billion budgeted for the entire complex.

Standing at a reported 818 m (the official height will not be revealed until next year) and consisting of 162 floors above ground, the giant tower - described as the 'jewel of the Gulf regions' - is an awesome sight to behold.

But while the exterior of the building has taken shape, interior shots suggest there is still some way to go before the official unveiling in January 2010.

Taken in November 2009, interior images display giant office spaces from the lofty 125th floor with vertigo-inducing views.

On floor 39, a luxury bathroom and entertainment area from the Armani Hotel provide an insight into what the rich and famous can expect upon their lavish stay.

Made up of 175 rooms, the 40,000 sq. m Armani Hotel, will be the first of its kind to open in the world.

Reports have suggested that Giorgio Armani himself will oversee all aspects of content, design and style, including interiors and amenities. And the fashion guru will be incorporating the his exclusive label's designs into the furnishings.

The statistics behind the mega structure are as impressive as the building itself. The rods that reinforce the structure weigh a total 31,400 tonnes alone. Laid end to end they would stretch more than a quarter of the way around the world.

The water system will supply 250,000 gallons each day and the tower's external surface is the size of 17 football fields. The building will have the worlds fastest elevators at speeds of 64 km/h (40 mph) or 18 m/s (59 ft/s).

The tower will include 800 private apartments and an observatory 442 metres above the ground on the 124th floor - the highest public observation desk in the world. There will be a club on floors 144 to 146.

Sitting at the foot of the tower is the 500 acre Downtown Burj Dubai development, which when completed is expected to cost around US$20 billion, offering 30,000 homes and the world's largest shopping mall - the Dubai Mall - covering 836,000 square metres. The Burj Dubai Mall will have areas for leisure, including a world-class aquarium, fashion show arena, a souk and an ice rink.

The Burj Dubai has been designed to be the centre of a large-scale, mixed-use development that will include 30,000 homes, 9 hotels, 6 acres of parkland, 19 residential towers, and the 12 hectare Burj Dubai Lake.

The mega structure has already achieved the distinction of being the world's tallest, surpassing the KNLY-TV mast (628.8m, 2,063ft) in North Dakota, USA

However, Dubai has been hit hard by the global downturn. This week, Dubai World, one of the emirate's main state holding companies, said it was asking for a delay on major parts of its debt repayments until at least May 30

Dubai was among the most dramatic victims of the credit crunch, with property prices halving from their highs in September 2008, leaving a huge overhang of debt

Dubai borrowed $80bn in a four-year construction spree designed to turn its economy into a Middle Eastern powerhouse of finance and tourism

Burj Dubai has also been hit by press reports of the poor conditions faced by its labourers, mostly immigrants from South Asia

Thursday, December 3, 2009

World’s tallest building, Burj Dubai Tower, opens as a golden era closes

Burj Dubai, or Dubai Tower, will be the world's tallest building.

Burj Dubai Tower, the world’s tallest building, is a spire of superlatives.

The 160-story skyscraper will open on January 4, the fourth anniversary of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum’s rule in Dubai.

Under the Sheikh, Dubai has seen a boom in record breakers, impressive firsts, and baffling spectacles. For example, the city is or will be home to the , a twirling tower, the world’s largest arch-supported bridge, and artificial islands in the shape of the world map.

And Burj Dubai boasts more surprising bullet points than simply being the world’s tallest tower:

• At 2,700 feet tall, the skyscraper can be seen from 10 miles away.

• The building will sport the fastest elevators in the world, traveling at 10 meters per second (22 miles per hour). They will also be double-decker elevators, with each deck supporting up to 21 people.

• To keep out the desert heat, 10,000 tons of coolant with flow through the tower every hour.

• 230,000 cubic meters of concrete form the building’s core, enough to pave 1,180 miles of sidewalk.

• Dubai Tower will be the highlight of the worlds’ largest indoor shopping center, with space for 1,200 shops nestled among 30,000 apartments.

But Dubai is a very different place this month than it was in 2004 when construction began on the tower. As AFP reports:

Plunging property prices and weak demand had already put a dampener on new schemes even before last week’s shock announcement by state-owned giant Dubai World that it wants to halt debt payments for six months.

“It’s not exactly going to improve investor confidence,” said Matthew Green, associate director at property agency CB Richard Ellis, which has reported a 55 percent year-on-year drop in downtown Dubai commercial rental rates and a 67 percent fall outside the centre.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dubai Sends a Reminder to All Investors

In just about any endeavor, complacency can be detrimental to continued success. Many of the most successful companies in the world have risen to the top of their respective industries by always being on the lookout for encroachments on their domain. For investors, when they get used to their environment for too long, they tend to stop noticing the potential dangers that might come out of seemingly nowhere.

That is just what has occurred recently with the announcement by Dubai that they would no longer be paying interest on loans made to two of its state owned companies as they have run into financial trouble. Recall it was just a few short years ago that another Dubai state owned company – Dubai World – had wanted to buy several US ports. That only fell through due to congressional and popular opposition.

The news of Dubai’s debt deferment shocked many investors who had thought that by now problems associated with the credit markets had become all but old news. Many investors had been shaken out of their complacency and all of a sudden risk mattered again. They reacted by selling off stocks and seeking the safety of the US dollar. However, as the markets began to sort the facts from fiction and Dubai received support from the United Arab Emirates, things have seemed to settle down and all is quiet – for now.

Dubai's skyline with the world's tallest building - the Burj Dubai.

The key lesson from this episode is that investors should always be on the lookout for the potential of being blindsided and to be able to ask themselves how their portfolio would hold up should the unexpected happen.

In Dubai’s case, the fact that things have unraveled for them is no surprise at all. Throughout the last several decades, we have seen country after country receive huge capital inflows through lenders all too willing to provide loans and foreign investment racing in to take advantage of some future potential mega project. The issue is that investors never seem to learn their lesson.

The internet is rife with numerous slideshows making their way by email showing Dubai’s progress and the unfathomable statistics relating just how much construction activity was under way. The statistics certainly were impressive but seldom – if ever – did we see any objective analysis of whether or not these exciting construction projects are economical, will they be able to stand up to a global blindsiding such as we have seen over the last two years or if they even made sense. When debt is available cheaply, enthusiasm tends to get the best of even the most rational investor.

In short, complacency was on display as banks continued to make loans for projects that may not be economical for a very long time. Amazingly, some banks seemed to have thought that in the event of default, the government would simply pick up the tab. To their dismay, they are realizing that the governments of Dubai and the UAE are not going to simply step up and pay the bills. Today, many of the developments have stopped construction and the rulers of Dubai are left to wonder “What happened?” The amazing aspect to this story is that it has been repeated in country after country. In the 1980s, most of South America was left with a debt hangover, in the 1990s it was Mexico and most of Asia and today it is Dubai. Investors might want to ask where might the next unknown come from?

Burj Dubai World’s tallest building

The world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai, is set to open on Jan. 4, 2010 despite the financial crisis its home-city is currently facing.

The Burj Dubai was topped out early in 2009 at a record-breaking 2,684 ft. The building broke eight world records; it is currently the tallest freestanding structure in the world, the building with the most floors and, once completed, will feature the highest elevator installation in the world. During its construction, its final height was increased multiple times. Originally, the tower was planned to stand only 1,837 ft. The exterior of the building was completed early last month and work has now shifted to the interior of the building in order to prepare it for when its first occupants move in early next year.

The tower is located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Dubai has recently experienced an economic downturn as the construction boom that has driven its economy for many years halts. Dubai recently announced that it was unable to pay interest on its $59 billion debt. Despite the economic crisis currently facing Dubai, the Burj Dubai is still planned to open as scheduled

first peek inside the towering Burj Dubai

The Burj Dubai, the tallest man-made building in the world at 2,684 ft., is set to be completed in the United Arab Emirates in January of 2010. The UK's Telegraph website recently posted some rare photos from inside the nearly-finished superstructure, along with some incredible facts about the project. Among them:

  • The Burj Dubai will have the world's fastest elevators at approximately 40 miles per hour.
  • The external surface of the skyscraper is the equal to the size of 17 football fields.
  • Like to "get high" when you party? The Burj Dubai will have a club on floors 144 through 146.
  • The building is estimated to cost roughly $4 billion, about three times more than the new Yankee Stadium.