The Genteel
April 4, 2020


Burj Khalifa Skyline

Substance Before Style

When the world's tallest tower finally celebrated its official inauguration on 4 January 2010, architects and designers looked back to acknowledge the feat they had accomplished. Not only had the Burj Khalifa surpassed all other towers across the world in height; it had provided many architectural challenges for all involved. The main challenge, however, had been to incorporate cultural and historical elements into the most structurally advanced building Dubai had ever seen. First and foremost, the goal was to construct a building that would surpass the Taipei 101 building. This meant that for the first few years of project planning, the talk was all about function rather than form

For those who had dismissed Dubai as a flash in the pan, the spindly peak of the Burj Khalifa proved to all that Dubai was headed only one way: onwards and upwards.

Tunneling Energy

The 828 metre building had to undergo a series of rigorous tests to ensure its superlative height could withstand the effect of high-speed winds and any potential seismic activity. This involved an extensive wind tunnel testing programme under the direction of Dr. Peter Irwin of Rowan William Davies and Irwin's (RWDI) boundary layer wind tunnels in Guelph, Ontario. The building's ability to withstand these forces had a big impact on its design; it led to the introduction of the "Y" shape of the Burj Khalifa - a structural design purposely shaped to reduce the impact of wind forces and to promote simplicity for constructability.

In addition to its unique design, architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) also pioneered a 'buttressed' core. The core is essentially hexagonal in design, with a hub connected to six wings, each with their own high performance concrete cores and perimeter columns. According to SOM: "the result is a tower that is extremely stiff torsionally. SOM applied a rigorous geometry to the tower that aligned all the common central core and column elements to form a building".

Nature's Symmetry

Once all structural elements of the project had been completed, it was necessary to give personality to the behemoth of concrete and steel. Adrian Smith, consulting Design Partner, was inspired by the desert flower, the Hymenocallis, due to its naturally harmonious structure. In the same way that the flower's petals extend from its stem, the tower's wings extend from its buttressed core. The notion of symmetry and geometry, however, is not only flora-inspired; intricate and intensely beautiful patterning systems are a key element in Islamic art, architecture and calligraphy. One only has to observe the simple and complementary lines of a traditional Arabian wooden door or a piece of Bedouin jewellery to recognize the importance of geometry in Arabian art. The tower's multi-faceted exoskeleton constructed of glass and steel is designed to catch the light at various times of the day and the sometimes dazzling refraction can light the tower up like a torch.

Water: Source of Inspiration

Burj Khalifa interior (rendering)

In an effort to draw on local and regional culture, many elements were considered. Nada Andric, Project interiors Designer and Associate Director at SOM explains that water was a key component in some of the peripheral designs and is a recurring element in the interiors. However, the significance of water goes far beyond style and design for the Burj Khalifa. The building will have one of the largest water condensate collection systems in the world. The system diverts and reuses water from the condensation generated by the effect of the building's internal air-conditioning versus outside ambient temperature and humidity. The condensate recovery system prevents this water from entering the wastewater stream and perhaps most importantly, in a country where natural water sources are all but non-existent, reduces the need for municipal potable water. Some of this water will be used to irrigate the tower’s surrounding landscape parks.  The estimated annual volume of water saved through this system is equivalent to 18 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Towering Triumph

The Burj Khalifa project took over five years to complete, breaking ground on 21 September 2004, with the last panel of the exterior being completed on 1 October 2009. The building was officially opened at the beginning of 2010. For many residents of Dubai, the many months of construction passed in an unremarkable fashion. Accustomed as they were to skyscrapers being built in the city, often five or six at a time, the sight of another building rising upwards was not enough to stop anyone in their tracks. However, as the height of the building kept extending, many began to realize that they were witnessing history in the making. The construction of this tallest of towers was not only the zenith of architectural prowess in Dubai, it was a message of prosperity and hope sent out to the world.

For those who had dismissed Dubai as a flash in the pan, the spindly peak of the Burj Khalifa proved to all that Dubai was headed only one way: onwards and upwards. Today, the city of Dubai has grown around the tower and its distinctive multi-faceted and multi-layered design draws people from all backgrounds; some come to admire the technical mastery, others to enjoy the clean, modern interiors. For residents of the UAE, the Burj Khalifa is an eye-catching daily reminder that anything is possible. 

Images courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP. 



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