Dubai has made headlines in recent weeks for its financial woes, and many are saying this once-booming desert metropolis has gone bust. But the emirate does have something to celebrate: The Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, is due to officially open on January 4.

The Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, is due to officially open on January 4.
Photo courtesy SOM

Precisely how many feet this superlative tower rises into the sky remains a mystery. “The final height is still being guarded closely,” says George Efstathiou, FAIA, managing partner in charge of the project at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.  “We’re bound to keep it a secret.”

The skyscraper is widely believed to be 2,684 feet tall, but recent changes to the way the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat measures building height complicates such estimates. Still, regardless of final calculations, the Burj Dubai will rise considerably higher than Taiwan’s 1,667-foot-tall Taipei 101, which opened in 2004 and has held the record for the world’s tallest building in terms of “height to architectural top.”

Situated in the city center, the roughly 160-story Burj Dubai will consist primarily of luxury apartments, office space, and an Armani Hotel. Encompassing more than 3 million square feet above grade, with an additional 2 million square feet below, the tower was built with some 327,000 cubic yards of concrete and 35,700 metric tons of rebar. At the peak of design activity, SOM had a team of 100 employees dedicated to the project in its Chicago office, along with a handful in Dubai.

The tower was originally scheduled to be completed in 2008, but developer Emaar pushed the date back several times in response to height modifications, construction worker strikes, and changes to interior finishes. “The obstacles were nothing more than normal” for a supertall tower, Efstathiou reports, noting that in terms of structure, the building was on solid footing from the beginning due to its Y-shaped base. He adds that although the tower will formally open in January, “polishing” work will continue for a few months.

Efstathiou says his team’s excitement has escalated in recent months, as the building nears completion. But he adds, “There’s also some sadness that this journey we’ve been on for over six years is now coming to an end.”