By Trevor C. Hale
I’m looking out the window in the world’s highest bathroom on the 154th floor of the Burj Khalifa, where I can see for miles as Dubai’s buildings merge into the desert. I’ve been up here a couple times, always with a group, so I’ve never actually taken advantage of the facilities. I wonder how long it takes for a flush to wind its way down the 2,722-foot building and out into the Persian Gulf. I’m sure the owners know the precise route and time, and it’s probably listed as one of its many world records, from world’s tallest structure to home of the fastest elevator.
Floors 152–154 belong to the building’s developer and can be used for private events. The only thing missing from 154’s Dr. Evil-lair-like conference room is Mr. Bigglesworth. And sharks with lasers. My family lives in the Burj about 100 floors below with a view of the fountain and Dubai Mall (world’s largest, natch).
When relocating to Dubai from Shanghai, we looked at many places, some on the beach, some near the Marina, and then thought to ourselves, YOLO, let’s live in the world’s tallest building. Despite what many think, it’s remarkably affordable. The facilities are all custom designed. Dubai is known for its grandeur, so it was fitting for it to erect the world’s largest manmade object in 2010, going higher than Taipei 101 to take the title.
Man has been in an arms race for the world’s tallest structure since ancient times (I say “man” as it feels like someone may be trying to compensate for something…or very little.) The Great Pyramid of Giza vied with the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Various cathedrals competed throughout Europe prior to the age of the skyscraper. My favorite “world’s tallest” story belongs to one of my favorite buildings, the iconic homage to art deco, the Chrysler Building. In 1930 its architects were competing with the Bank of Manhattan Trust building on the title, and famously, the spire was erected at the last minute, having been constructed in the upper parts of the building.
Birmingham was home to the tallest buildings in the South on the corner of 20th Street and First Avenue North: the Woodward Building, Brown Marx Building, Empire Building, and American Trust and Savings Bank Building. In 1911, Jemmison Magazine dubbed it the “heaviest corner in the South” and it has since become known as the heaviest corner on Earth.
The day before the inauguration of the Burj, the ruler of Dubai changed the name from Burj Dubai to Burj Khalifa, as an homage to the UAE’s ruler in Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, comprised of seven emirates, with Dubai arguably as the best known.) Organizers of the inauguration had to scramble to change the name throughout the structure the night before.
The architecture was inspired by a combination of the leaves of desert flower and Islamic art. The tower is composed of three elements arranged around a central core with 26 helical levels. The spiral pattern and layout of the levels displaces the wind before it can “organize” and sway the building. Every November, workers repel down its sides to install the LED lights for the New Year’s Eve show.
During the time it takes to get up or down the two elevators that bring us to 59, we end up chatting with our neighbors and have made some great friends. Jerry, an oil and gas man who lived in Decatur as a child, is one our besties. Bjoern and Annika, a lovely German couple. Mo and Kati, Egyptian and Belarusian. All fine folks who help make up the 80 percent expatriate population of Dubai.
B-ham flourished because of its iron ore, and Dubai because of its oil. Birmingham has transformed from an industrial hub to a medical and services powerhouse (Thank you, UAB!) Dubai is now a major tourist destination and is home to the world’s busiest airport. Saudi says it’s building the Kingdom Tower, a full kilometer high (compared to the Burj’s 830 meters). That’s not till 2018 though.
For now, we’re still on top of the world.