Symbol of Global Excess in Dubai

The world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifah or Khalifah Tower, was unveiled in Dubai on Monday.

AP has video

Dubai is a finance hub, the bubble of which has burst, so the building’s opening now seems a critique of past excesses more than the triumph originally dreamed of. Now that Dubai is having to be bailed out by its oil-rich sister emirate, Abu Dhabi, the tower had to be named for its ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, rather than retaining its original name, Burj Dubai. Many critics have seen it as a monument to hubris likely to remain mostly empty, as the 21st century Tower of Babel.

As you can see, Dubai nevertheless went all out to celebrate the opening.

The Burj Khalifah is a symbol of everything wrong with our present moment. Rooted in a finance and real estate bubble, planned as big for the sake of bigness, opulent, now saved from disaster by Abu Dhabi’s unsustainable oil revenues, it casts its shadow on a nation of guest workers, many impoverished and exploited. If global warming proceeds at the pace some climate scientists fear, and the seas rise substantially, it may, ironically enough, be all that is visible of the low-lying United Arab Emirates a century from now.

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8 Responses

  1. Nevertheless, it's one of mankind's greatest technological marvels, and one of the most beautiful buildings our planet has ever seen.

    Just like we admire countless works of art and construction since the Great Pyramid, even if we could actually live without them. And yet we choose to go ahead and create them. Thus, Burj Dubai is something very human – and part of our common heritage.

  2. Sir, there is nothing in the world called Arabian gulf, it has been Persian gulf and it will remain Persian gulf. It is a shame for a historian to let the history changes because of money

  3. An interesting historical resonance: the Empire State Tower was completed very shortly before/during the market crash and great depression. During the great depression they called it "The Empty State Tower".

  4. I must agree with f. For anyone who grew up with a love for tall buildings, this is an extraordinary fete. It is hard to imagine anyone building something taller or why, but this does capture the imagination, or mine at least.

  5. Oh these little men and their erections. I yawn in their general direction.

    Perhaps the postcards will sell well, but I'll buy a sunset before this any day.


    p.s. Just read that book about Napoleon in Egypt,
    …well enjoyed it too.

  6. Great monuments are commonly follies when they are built. Absurd, extravagant wastes of money – I'm sure the Pyramids were, when they were built.

    Then memory mutates, and they become great cultural symbols.

  7. The Tower of Babel was not built for the worship and praise of God, but was instead dedicated to the glory of man, to "make a name" for the builders: "Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'" (Genesis 11:4). The Book of Genesis then relates how God, displeased with the builders' intent, came down and confused their languages ~ and scattered the people throughout the earth. The Towers and seven building complex were destroyed in 2001 in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

  8. Juan, I'm a bit surprised that a Middle East expert such as yourself falls for some of the media hype about the collapse of Dubai.

    The Burj Khalifa will not be 'mostly empty'. Maybe some investors who bought apartments will not inhabit them, but the office space will be filled, being some of the most prestigious and best-located in the city. Of course rents may be not what the owners hoped for, but any empty office space in Dubai will be in more remote and less-favoured locations. The 'Old Town' and the rest of the Burj area has quickly become one of the busiest, most popular and expensive areas in Dubai.

    And, for all the seriousness of the climate change issue, it doesn't help to post hyperbole such as 'be all that is visible of the low-lying United Arab Emirates a century from now'.

    The highest reasonable estimates for sea-level rise this century are 1.3 metres, more likely maximum 0.8 metres. A wealthy country such as the UAE can construct sea-defences to deal with such a rise. Most of Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa location, is more than 1 metre about sea-level.

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