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Tallest tales

by CW Staff on Jun 6, 2011

The construction site of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The construction site of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

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Tomich notes “there is still a lot of vacant land to develop in the Downtown Dubai are.” However, it is anticipated that Emaar “will wait until the right time to continue the overall build-out.

This is the kind of things that makes these projects feasible – you have to have a larger vision, and you need to have an economic positioning in time to hit the market right.

I know there were other projects considered after this one that were going to be double the amount of square feet, and I do not know how you drop ten million square feet onto the market at one time with a great sense of comfort, but we would have had to figure that out had it happened.”

The idea for the Burj Khalifa emerged from a two-week design competition. “It was really a group of different participants invited by Emaar. It wanted to have the usual suspects who could do a building like this, and they made it like a competition of ideas. They wanted to see who had what approach to the project.” At that time, 300m “was pretty tall, but now lots of 500m high buildings are being considered.”

SOM is responsible for eight of the top 20 tallest buildings in the world. “The Al Hamra Tower in Kuwait is due to be finished, which will unfortunately knock the John Hancock Centre off the list.” Hence the firm’s considerable super-tall experience meant it gravitated almost naturally to the Burj Khalifa project.

“There is a lot of engineering in how the building is massed and shaped in the form you see. There was an idea about the geometry. You will see stories about the desert flower, but that is not really the whole story. Nobody sits down and says I am going to model the world’s tallest building on a single flower.

“There was definitely a lot of thinking about symmetrical geometries. We looked a lot at Islamic architecture, its shapes and curves. Throughout the building there is a lot of extrapolation and abstraction of these historic shapes and curvatures. We did the same thing with the interiors.

“We used proportion and harmony to develop the massing of the tower. The engineering and the architecture were very much symbiotic. We came up with a series of steps and terraces in a helical pattern that was developed over time.

As everybody knows, we came up with a Y-shaped plan for a lot of reasons. Structurally it is very stable plan, as it works like each wing is a buttress to the core in the centre. It is great for residential layouts.

We came up with a typical 9m bay, and within those bays we laid out various apartments. It gave us a lot of large free space. There are no columns on the exteriors except for the column walls, which also mean lots of daylighting, lots of perimeter and one core, so there was a big advantage in that.”

Interestingly, Tomich says that SOM even looked at the scale of the project in the context of New York and Chicago. “At the time we time we started the design in about 2003, there was not a lot of the current context of Dubai even in existence. We did an interesting study just to see what it would look like in an urban context with tall buildings.”