The world’s tallest skyscraper – boasting 1,000-plus luxury apartments and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani – opened Monday evening at an awkward time for Dubai, which is suffering a massive real estate crash. Three weeks ago, the Arab city-state had to be bailed out again by wealthier neighboring emirate and rival, Abu Dhabi.
The irony was highlighted by the unexpected last-minute name change from Burj Dubai (“Dubai Tower”) to Burj Khalifa. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan is the head of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, which includes Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and five other emirates (or city-states).
The renaming of Dubai’s iconic tower after its rival’s ruler was announced Monday night at the tower’s inauguration, which otherwise offered no sign of Dubai’s ongoing economic troubles.
Thousands of spectators, including Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al Maktoum crowded the plaza surrounding the tower to watch a dazzling water, light, and fireworks show choreographed to music.
The opening had been timed to the fourth anniversary of the rule of Sheikh Mohammed, who has championed the iconic project and the breakneck development for which Dubai became famous.
Certainly the Burj Khalifa is meant to outshine Dubai’s many superlative projects so far, including a self-proclaimed seven-star hotel. The Dubai Tower’s 160-stories reach 828 meters high (2,716 feet) – a height kept secret until the opening Monday night.
The towering statistics, by contrast, have spilled across the media. It’s so tall that it’s visible from 60 miles away, reports say, and the temperature drops 6 degrees from base to peak. Winds at the top can reach 90 miles an hour. The highest floor offers views of Iran. Its elevators will travel the world’s longest distance. Its nightclub on the 143rd floor is the world’s highest; above it, on floor 158, the world’s highest mosque.
Throughout the day, government-owned channel Dubai One interviewed a parade of people praising the Burj Khalifa and showed montages of Sheikh Mohammed illustrating his vision and generosity – as well as an apparent penchant for constructing new buildings.
In one clip he urged 10,000 new housing units. In another, he sat down on a road to chat with a resident whose neighborhood had been damaged by rains and ask him what he needed. “My house needs repairs,” the man told him. “We won’t repair it,” Sheikh Mohammed told him. “We will build a new one.”