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Dizzying Heights of The Burj Khalifa

We all have our moments of madness. Mine was going up, up, up to the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Almost four times the height of London’s ‘Gherkin’ and comfortably outdoing the Chrysler Building if stacked on top of the Empire State Building in New York, the Burj is the new, unequivocal King Kong of construction.

With its glittering, silvery needle-like tip, it doesn’t just scrape the sky, it punches a nice, neat hole in it. Visible from 60 miles away, there’s little chance of overlooking this colossal construction when you’re in Dubai. I had an almost perfect view of it from the 43rd floor of my hotel suite on Sheikh Zayed Road, home to most of Dubai’s skyscrapers. And the view followed me pretty much everywhere I went.

Developed by EMAAR Properties and designed and engineered by Chicago-based architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, this tapering world record-beating tower breaks a few more records with the world’s fastest elevators (traveling up to 40mph), the world’s highest restaurant on the 122nd floor, the world’s highest outdoor observation deck on the 124th floor and the world’s highest mosque on the 154th floor.

The high-profile building (sorry) forms a magnificent centrepiece of a 500-acre mixed-use development that includes 30,000 homes, nine hotels, six acres of parkland, 19 residential towers, 12ha Burj Dubai Lake and Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall and home to a water feature that is the Middle East’s brightest spot with 1.5 million lumens of projected light and nozzles shooting water as high as a 50-storey building.

They do everything bigger, faster and higher in Dubai.

The total cost of the development of the tower and Dubai Mall is estimated to have been $8bn. This should give you a flavour of Dubai’s ‘Because-I’m-worth-it’ grandeur, as if you needed it. Step out onto the mall’s waterfront promenade and you’ll see the Burj Khalifa in full dizzying splendour – from root to tip.

It looks frightfully up in the air when viewed from here and the crook in my neck was testament to that.

From the adjacent Dubai Mall, dozens of tourists lined up on the Sunday to take the elevator to the 124th floor of the tower. And I was one of them.

A small fibreglass model of the building, illuminated in soft blue light, dominated the reception area of the ‘At the Top’ experience. A brief comedy moment came from an overenthusiastic Chinese tourist – kneeling, lying, shooting up, shooting down, angling his camera every which way at this miniature replica of the Burj Khalifa before being asked to back away by two anxious security men who had been watching his every move for some time.

After an airport-style security check (luckily, I got to keep my shoes on), we were escorted along a 65-metre travelator. Then it was on to the world’s fastest elevators. The ride was surprisingly smooth and I barely detected any movement, though the ear popping 10 seconds in let me know that we were some way off the ground. Blacked out with only the elevator’s LCD entertainment features for light (a deliberate distraction for nervy passengers like myself) and with a build up of music on arrival, we were at the viewing platform 1,483ft above the city – in less than 60 seconds flat. Incredible. Our office lift takes longer to move just four floors.

The observation deck is located about two-thirds of the way up the Burj Khalifa and is mainly enclosed, but includes an outdoor terrace bordered by guard rails. Boasting spectacular views of Dubai’s glimmering skyline, a panoramic view of the emirate’s Gulf shore, the Palm Jumeirah and The World islands stream into view, the sprawling desert to the east and the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi to the south.

The view is akin to looking out of a plane. Except you’re not confined to a tiny cabin window with a grimy aircraft wing obstructing your view.

I could see all the way down to a tiny strip with miniscule objects darting up and down. That was Sheikh Zayed Road – the super highway that connects Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and where I had been staying. Even squinting it was impossible to locate my hotel among a dense cluster of now matchstick-sized skyscrapers.

Directly below I could see the new developments that surround the tower in all their Google Maps-style glory. For 10 dirhams I tried out the computerised telescopes and zoomed in on goings on at street level. A click and I experienced what the view would have been like had I planned a night visit, thanks to the technology’s built-in memory, and how the same scene looked 20 years ago (a giant sandpit with only a scattering of low-rise buildings).

My vertigo subsiding, I ventured out of the safe, secure confines of the enclosed deck and onto the open-air terrace. A quick look up and the crook in my neck was back. There was still so much building left above. The observation deck is on the 124th floor, but the three highest floors – 152nd, 153rd and 154th – allocated for corporate events would undoubtedly offer the best views, I thought.

My desire to reach the pinnacle was short-lived as I came to discover that the very top of the building is designed to sway and flex almost a metre and a half in all directions in high winds. I think I’ll stay put.

View timelapse videos of the Dubai cityscape, courtesy of Richard Bentley.