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April 16 2011

The 10 best tall buildings

The Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore's choice of man's towering achievements - from the Chrysler building to CCTV in Beijing

April 04 2010

World's tallest building, Burj Khalifa, reopens observation deck

Dubai skyscraper reopens deck two months after elevator malfunction left tourists stranded 120 stories above ground

The observation deck of the world's tallest skyscraper reopened on Sunday, two months after an elevator malfunction that left visitors trapped more than 120 stories above ground forced it to close.Dozens of tourists lined up on Sunday for tickets to take an elevator to the 124th floor of the half-mile-high Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The deck of the Burj Khalifa was shut in February after an elevator packed with visitors got stuck between floors for 45 minutes, before rescuers dropped a ladder into the shaft so those inside could crawl out. Two months later, it is still unclear what caused the elevator to fail.

The accident proved a major embarrassment for Dubai, whose rulers hoped the Burj Khalifa, which officially opened in January, would be a major tourist draw and buoy the Gulf city state as it struggles to revive its image as a cutting-edge Arab metropolis amid nagging questions about its financial health.

At 2,717ft (828 metres), the tapering, silvery tower ranks as not only the world's highest skyscraper, but also the tallest freestanding structure in the world.

The tower rises more than 160 stories, though the exact number of floors is not known. The observation deck is mostly enclosed, but it includes an outdoor terrace bordered by guard rails and is located about two-thirds of the way up.

Two elevators, with up to 15 people each, whisk people up to the observation deck daily, running every half hour from 10am to 9pm.

Most visitors who paid the 100 dirhams ($27) for the three-minute ride to the deck, which boasts a view of Dubai's glimmering skyline, the sprawling desert and the emirate's Gulf shore, either didn't know about February's elevator malfunction or did not mind the ride's bumpy start.

"We feel fortunate to have gone up," said Sheetal Gulati, a tourist from the UK who is on a three-day trip to Dubai. "The view is very nice and worth seeing."

Emaar, the state-linked company that owns the tower, had little to say about February's accident. The company said nothing about an elevator malfunction at the time of the accident and did not provide details of any repairs or maintenance work on the elevators before the viewing deck reopened Sunday.

Burj Khalifa was designed by Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which has a long track record for engineering some of the world's tallest buildings, including Chicago's Willis Tower, the tallest in the US and formerly known as the Sears Tower.

The observation deck was the only part of the tower that opened in January. Work continues on the rest of the building's interior and the first tenants are expected to move in soon. - Associated Press © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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February 08 2010

Mystery as Burj Khalifa shuts

Electrical problems blamed for closure of viewing platform but unknown if rest of tower is affected

The world's tallest skyscraper has unexpectedly closed to the public a month after its lavish opening, disappointing tourists headed for the observation deck and casting doubt over plans to welcome its first permanent occupants in the coming weeks.

Electrical problems are partly to blame for the closure of the Burj Khalifa's viewing platform, the only part of the half-mile high tower that has so far opened. But a lack of information from the spire's owner left it unclear whether the rest of the largely empty building – including dozens of elevators meant to whisk visitors to the tower's more than 160 floors – was affected by the shutdown.

The indefinite closure, which was imposed on Sunday, comes as Dubai struggles to revive its international image as a cutting-edge Arab metropolis, amid nagging questions about its financial health.

The Persian Gulf city-state had hoped the 828m (2,717ft) Burj Khalifa would be a major tourist draw. Dubai has promoted itself by visitors with over-the-top attractions such as the Burj, which juts like a silvery needle out of the desert and can be seen from miles around.

In recent weeks, thousands of tourists have lined up for the chance to buy tickets for viewing times often days in advance that cost more than $27 apiece. Now many of those would-be visitors, such as Wayne Boyes, a tourist from near Manchester, England, must get back in line for refunds.

"It's just very disappointing," said Boyes, 40, who showed up at the Burj's entrance today with a ticket for an afternoon time slot, only to be told the viewing platform was closed. "The tower was one of my main reasons for coming here," he said.

The precise cause of the £960m ($1.5bn) Dubai skyscraper's temporary shutdown remained unclear. In a brief statement responding to questions, the building's owner, Emaar Properties, blamed the closure on "unexpected high traffic", but then suggested that electrical problems were also at fault.

"Technical issues with the power supply are being worked on by the main and subcontractors and the public will be informed upon completion," the company said, adding it is "committed to the highest quality standards at Burj Khalifa".

Despite repeated requests, a spokeswoman for Emaar was unable to provide further details or rule out the possibility of foul play. Greg Sang, Emaar's director of projects and the man charged with coordinating the tower's construction, could not be reached. Construction workers at the base of the tower said they were unaware of any problems.

Power was reaching some parts of the building. Strobe lights warning aircraft flashed and a handful of floors were illuminated after nightfall.

Emaar did not say when the observation deck would reopen. Tourists affected by the closure are being offered the chance to rebook or receive refunds.

Questions were raised about the building's readiness in the months leading up to the January opening.

The opening date had originally been expected in September, but was then pushed back until sometime before the end of 2009. The eventual opening date just after New Year's was meant to coincide with the anniversary of the Dubai ruler's ascent to power.

There were signs even that target was ambitious. The final metal and glass panels cladding the building's exterior were installed only in late September. Early visitors to the observation deck had to peer through floor-to-ceiling windows caked with dust – a sign that cleaning crews had not yet had a chance to scrub them.

Work is still ongoing on many of the building's other floors, including those that will house the first hotel designed by Giorgio Armani, due to open in March. The building's base remains largely a construction zone, with entrance restricted to the viewing platform lobby in an adjacent shopping mall.

The first of some 12,000 residential tenants and office workers are supposed to move in to the building this month. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 04 2010

Brash, glitzy and named after its rich neighbour

The inauguration of the tallest building on Earth was supposed to be a show of defiance by Dubai's rulers after a property crash which threatened to shatter the Gulf emirate's reputation as a global economic power.

But tonight'sspectacular ceremony, which revealed the Burj Dubai's 828m height for the first time, became a moment of supplication when the decision was revealed to name it Burj Khalifa, after the ruler of rival but much richer emirate Abu Dhabi who came to the rescue when Dubai's finances descended into crisis last autumn.

As fireworks exploded up and down the 169 storeys, the move triggered speculation that the transfer of the naming rights may have been the price paid when Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates, approved direct and indirect bail outs totalling $25bn last year as Dubai's debt problems deepened and property values slumped.

The concession is likely to deflate Dubai's triumphalism in dwarfing the previous tallest building in the world, the 508m tower 101 in Taipei, and the 629m KVLY-TV mast in North Dakota, the tallest manmade structure of any kind. The state-owned developer's pride was such that the 124th-floor public viewing platform is inscribed with the legend: "I am the heart of the city and its people, the marker that defines Emaar's ambition and Dubai's shining dream."

One observer said naming the structure after the leader of Dubai's main rival for supremacy in the UAE would be like naming a new landmark in Glasgow after London. An Abu Dhabi state-controlled newspaper said it was "a name to reflect greatness".

Tonight after dusk a crowd of thousands of emiratis, Europeans and migrant workers from Asia jostled to witness the inauguration ceremony led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and attended by Sheikh Khalifa, who has in recent months sought to underscore the close relationship between the emirates. In an apparent nod to the city state's financial predicament, the festivities were subdued by Dubai standards, but still dazzling.

The world's biggest water fountain burst into life as a digital presentation listed the £925m building's achievements, which include the highest occupied floor in the world – at 160 storeys – and the highest swimming pool 260m in the air on floor 76.

There is talk of plans for a mosque on close to the zenith at floor 158, which would become the world's highest place of worship, though the world's highest bar will be a few floors down. The building is so tall you can see the sunset twice from it – once at the base and again after a 60-second lift ride to the viewing platform.

The Burj's developers had tried to use its inauguration to put a brave face on Dubai's financial crisis. "Crises come and go, and cities move on," said Mohammed Alabbar, chairman of the tower's developer Emaar Properties. "You have to move on. Because if you stop taking decisions, you stop growing."

About 90% of the space in the building is understood to be sold, but the value of many apartments is thought to have fallen by 50% from the market's high point.

The Indian healthcare entrepreneur Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty owns one of the highest addresses on floor 100. He spent $13m buying the whole floor several years ago to turn the property into guest houses for friends and family. "We can see everything as if you are on the top of the world," he told a local paper. "I had no fear when I was up there. Even reaching my apartment takes less than a minute in the elevator."

The developer said it is confident in the safety of the tower. It has air-conditioned, pressurised and fire-resistant refuge floors at 25 store intervals and its reinforced concrete structure making it stronger than steel-frame skyscrapers.

"It's a lot more robust," said Greg Sang, Emaar's director of projects. "A plane won't be able to slice through the Burj like it did through the steel columns of the World Trade Center."

Ken Shuttleworth, a lead architect on the Swiss Re, London's skyscraper known as the Gherkin, applauded the building's aesthetic but said building very tall slender is the least economical method of constructing a tall building.

"Do you really need to build high in a desert?" he said. "You only build high when there is so much pressure on land that you have now choice. It can't make any sense financially so it is being done for status, a landmark on the horizon." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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