Fortune or folly: Dubai's towering empire opens

Life in Dubai is not for the faint-hearted. But for those who fear neither heights nor the financial crisis, the Gulf city-state is to offer an entirely new experience: the chance to spend the rest of your days hundreds of metres in the air.

The long-awaited Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, is to open today. At 818 metres and 160 floors, it is the height of the current highest skyscraper, Taipei 101 in Taiwan, with the Eiffel Tower perched on top.

A firm of Chicago architects have designed it so that those who so wish will never have to leave, or even descend below the 108th floor.

That level is the top floor of residential apartments. For work, you can go to the offices upstairs - anywhere up to the 160th floor. To eat, you can visit the restaurant on the 122nd and to exercise, you can use the gym on the 123rd, about 440 metres up. The gym has both an indoor and, unnervingly, an outdoor swimming pool.

To prevent the high-flying yet enclosed life from becoming dull, the tower's developers have a solution - at least for the young. The Burj intends to host the world's highest nightclub, 20 floors higher still than the gym.

Since ground was broken on the project in January 2004 the tower has led to debate in Dubai that has mirrored the fortunes of the emirate.

For the company behind it, Emaar, and the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, it is a "shining accomplishment … an icon of the new Middle East: prosperous, dynamic and successful".

The purple prose of tourist guidebooks has already had difficulty keeping up with Dubai's transformation from an oriental souk, with picturesque dishdasha-clad residents bobbing on the creek in wooden dhows to the world capital of bling. For them the Burj Dubai has proved a challenge. "Just damn tall," was the pithy conclusion of Lonely Planet.

Burj in Arabic means tower, so that the building - which is set next to the Dubai Mall and the world's tallest fountain, called the Dubai Fountain - is named less than imaginatively "Dubai Tower".


As the global property boom came to an end, Dubai's vision has turned to nightmare. With the emirate's fall from grace in November after admitting a multibillion-dollar hole in its finances, the Burj took on a deeper symbolism.

Its sharp spire appeared to "pierce the bubble in the sky", said one commentator who compared it with Ozymandias, the poem in which Shelley describes the arrogant wreckage of a long-disappeared empire.

"Outrageous, wasteful, egotistical, ridiculous," a journalist wrote of it after Dubai asked for a standstill on debt repayments.

The Burj's height remains officially a secret, although developers have told newspapers that it is 818 metres.

Just who will occupy the tower is a mystery due to client confidentiality. However, developers say it is sold out.

Telegraph, London