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03 March 2024

Burj Khalifa presents a breathtaking view from the very pinnacle of this world

The shadow of the Burj Khalifa dominates Sheikh Zayed Road. (LOAY ABU HAYKEL)

By Keith J Fernandez

From the top of the world, if I squinted really, really hard, I could see almost all the way to Abu Dhabi. No, I wasn't on Mount Everest, simply at the Burj Khalifa.

The world's tallest tower opens to the public today and for Dh100 per adult ticket [fascinatingly, Emaar will need 55 million visitors to pay that price to recoup the Dh5.5bn construction cost], anyone will be able to take an ear-popping ride up to the 124th floor of the tower. Child tickets for Dh75 and immediate-access VIP tickets are priced Dh210. I am reliably informed this is the world's highest observation deck, but its actual height, like the elevation of the tower itself, was being kept under wraps until the evening's inauguration.

The timing couldn't have been better. With the world limping out of a recession, the new Burj, gives tourists another reason to hit the shiny emirate – particularly during the Dubai Shopping Festival, which begins January 28 and brings in the largest chunk of visitors to the city each year.

The March opening of the first Armani Hotel, which occupies the lowest eight floors with suites on levels 38 and 39, should provide a further tourism boost, as the world's travelati check in for a taste of the latest in luxury living. Before then, the first residents of this vertical city should have moved in, the first of 12,000 people to live and work in the building.

But those of us not in that magic number, unlike businessman BR Shetty who has bought the 100th floor, will have to content themselves with a ride to the 124th floor.

The ride to the top

The experience begins in the entrails of Dubai Mall. You pick up your time-stamped tickets, now available over the internet at atthetopburjdubai.com, right by More Café. Visitors will be let in at 30-minute intervals to keep crowds in check, and we can predict those time-stamped tickets will be quite the souvenir of a visit to the UAE.

An arty fibreglass model of the tower, illuminated in soft blue light, dominates the reception area, but the real highlight at this level is the cool interactive display behind it that places the Burj on the skyline of other world capitals. Two multimedia presentations compare the tower with other tall buildings around the world.

Finally, the wait's over and we cross the Metro-style security barrier onto a darkened, 65-metre-long travellator, gliding past a rather well executed multimedia display of the city's history from pearl diving hub to gleaming capital of commerce. Music specially composed by Canada's Katia Makdissi-Warren pipes in, suitably blending Arabic rhythms with contemporary orchestrations.

We emerge into a sunlit atrium, where we all look through a tiny magnifying glass at ceiling height for a closer view at the very tip of this gleaming spire. While I was unable to discern much of a difference when compared with a non-magnified look, others with me broke into all kinds of exclamations, so clearly, this had something to do with the fact that I was wearing glasses. Without them, though, I couldn't see anything at all.

I can, however, see the text on the futuristically back-lit wall, which makes a spiritual attempt to interpret the personality of this towering icon: "I am the heart of the city and its people," the legend reads, "the marker that defines Emaar's ambition and Dubai's shining dream. More than just a moment in time, I define moments for future generations…"

Then it's up a long escalator that inevitably raises jokes about how it runs all the way to the top.

Instead, we stop in front of a display guaranteed to delight nerdy number-crunchers: the From Vision to Reality exhibit tracks the evolution of the project and the challenges its engineers faced along the way. And for the aesthetes, there's an exploration of architect Adrian Smith's inspiration: the Hymenocallis, a spidery, layered lily native to the world's desert nations.

It's onto a high-speed elevator next; the ride to our final destination almost like we were in a spaceship. An LED display and foot-wide monitors all around distract us briefly – and then our ears pop, and it's into a sunlit atrium: we're here and the actual ride itself really did take less than 60 seconds.

I press my nose to the triple-glazed wall immediately: the iconic Address Downtown Burj Dubai lies far below me, and next to it, almost flat on the ground and unbelievably tiny is the normally gargantuan Dubai Mall.

There's something about tall buildings that engenders a sense of power and achievement – even if you personally haven't done anything besides pay your Dh100 and board an elevator – and a sense of awe overtakes me as I walk around.

And then my eyes hit upon a gleaming Metro station. Right beside it, a tiny strip of ribbon with ant-sized cars scurrying up and down, is Sheikh Zayed Road.

Suddenly, I can see Mazaya Centre, like two inverted shuttlecocks placed side by side, and the buildings in its vicinity: I pass them all on the way to work every day, but suddenly I've got a new perspective on them – and their architects.

Sight unbound

A panoramic view of the coast and The World islands stream into view and then, on the other side, the dense cluster of buildings between Defence Roundabout and the World Trade Centre materialises, and I can see all the way to Sheikh Saeed?House on the creek and beyond.

So much better than a plane ride – no aircraft wing and crankly toddler's chocolate smears on the window to ruin my view.

For a closer look – I'm now obsessed with finding the apartment building I live in – I zoom into goings-on at street level through one of the many computerised telescopes around the floor. At Dh10 for two-and-a-half minutes, you can examine any patch of desert you want in three views: live, by day and at night.

From today – but roped off to us unlucky previewers – you can even have an invigorating taste of Dubai air 124 floors above ground on the outdoor terrace. And in a country where shopping is almost the national pastime, I was able to indulge in a spot of retail therapy up on high. From branded T-shirts to jewelled compacts, it's instantly desirable and reasonably priced. Get set for requests for Burj-themed merchandise from the folk back home, particularly as all of it is as yet unavailable anywhere else but at the top of the world.

The Burj Khalifa opens to the public today. Tickets are available at atthetopburjdubai.com

World records

- Tallest building in the world at 828 metres, surpassing Taipei 101 in Taiwan (508m).

- Tallest man-made structure in the world, beyond the KVLY-TV mast in North Dakota, USA (628.8m)

- Tallest free-standing structure in the world, breaking the 31-year-old record of CN Tower, (553.33m)

- Largest number of storeys in the world – over 160 

- Highest occupied floor: level 160

- Highest outdoor observation deck: level 124

- World record for vertical concrete pumping – over 600m

- Tallest service elevator in the world – 504m metres, more than the height of Taipei 101 (448m ) and almost one-and-a-half times that of the Empire State Building in New York (381m)

- Record for the highest installation of an aluminium and glass façade 

- World's highest swimming pool on level 76 (over 260m)

The main components 

- Total built-up area – 5.67 million sq ft

- The Residences (900 homes) – 3.1m sq ft; Levels – 19 to 37; 43 to 72; 76 to 108 

- Sky Lobby – Levels 43 to 44; 76 to 77

- The Corporate Suites (37 floors) – 228,000 sq ft; Levels – 112 to 121; 125 to 154 

- The Corporate Suites/Residential Lounge – Level 123

- Armani Hotel Dubai (160 rooms) – 269,000 sq ft; levels – concourse, ground, 1 to 8, 38, 39 

- Armani Residences (144 suites) – 219,000 sq ft; levels 9 to 16

- At The Top, Burj Khalifa – level 124

- Communication floors – 15,600 sq ft; levels 156 to 159 

- Leisure and other Amenities; Parking levels B1 and B2; four swimming pools; The Club, Concourse & Roof, L43, L76

- Cigar Club – level 1

- Library – level 123 

- Health club – 22,000 sq ft; The Club – annex

- Armani/SPA – level 3

What they say

Simon Cooper

Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, HSBC Middle East

The inauguration of Burj Khalifa represents a historic achievement for Dubai, another example of the "can-do" approach that has successfully delivered world class infrastructure and facilities in a remarkably short time.

Suresh Kumar

EFS CEO, Emirates Bank

Burj Khalifa symbolises the "can do and will do outstandingly well" spirit of Dubai. What a monumental tribute to the ascension celebrations...

Abdul Baset Al Janahi

CEO, Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development

The opening of the Burj Khalifa clarifies the difference between government and companies. It also confirms the Dubai train is moving on because Dubai's leaders and people do not know despair. We, as officials, look at Sheikh Mohammed in a way that is different from the way the world looks at him as we have confidence in his abilities and vision.

Professor Basil Al Bustani

Chief Economic Advisor, Department of Economic Development

The opening of the Burj Khalifa is a symbol of success amid challenging economic conditions that the whole world has suffered from. This achievement has become a reality despite all the difficulties that affected the economies of the world. Therefore I consider the Burj Khalifa is exceptional in both our Arab region and the world.

Aref Obaid Al Muhairi

Executive Director, Dubai Statistics Centre

The opening of the Burj Khalifa is a confirmation of Dubai's uniqueness and distinction and an extension of emirate's achievements in the field of infrastructure. This structure would not have been achieved without the presence of a sophisticated leader with far-sighted and wise vision. It confirms our leadership is heading on the right direction to complete our economic development and infrastructure.

Paras Shahdadpuri

Chairman, Nikai Group of Companies, and President, Indian Business & Professional Council

The inauguration of this iconic building is a matter of immense pride for all residents of the UAE, and particularly those of Dubai. It requires huge courage and resources for any city to host icons such as the tallest structure on earth and Dubai has done it – and done it with great success. When the whole world is still talking about recession, Burj Khalifa stands out as an oasis of success against a grim economic backdrop. Dubai has bounced back from the tough challenges of 2009. The Burj Khalifa inauguration will generate additional tourism. This will help businesses and result in an inflow of foreign investment and increased economic activity.

Jitendra Gianchandani

Chairman, Jitendra Group of Companies

The inauguration of the Burj Khalifa is a defining moment – and a very proud one – not only for Dubai, the UAE and the Middle East but for the entire human race. It is a grand salute to engineering capabilities. The Burj Khalifa is a milestone in our life on this earth.


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