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Debt-hit Dubai opens world's tallest tower

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dubai on Monday officially opened the world's largest tower, reaching half a mile into the sky
  • Dubai wallowing in debt crisis and a second $10B bail-out loan from neighboring Abu Dhabi
  • Critics see the Burj as a poorly designed throwback to financial boom times
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(CNN) -- Dubai on Monday officially inaugurated the centerpiece of its decade-long construction boom, with the surprise revelation that the world-beating 168-story skyscraper -- seen by some as a symbol of the city's economic excess -- was even bigger than previously thought.

In a glitzy firework-lit ceremony, the city-state's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum unveiled a plaque commemorating the event and also announced that the $1.5 billion structure has a new name: the Burj Khalifa.

Named after Khalifa Bin Zayed, the president of the United Arab Emirates -- and ruler of Abu Dhabi, which recently bailed out debt-ridden Dubai to the tune of $10 billion -- the tower was officially recorded as 828 meters tall, adding 10 meters on to previous height claims.

Six years in the making, and now 319 meters higher than previous skyscraping record-holder Taipei 101, Dubai's newest edifice commands dizzying views of the ambitious building program that has transformed the emirate.

The structure's architects, Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, have called the Burj Khalifa "a bold global icon that will serve as a model for future urban centers."

Declaring that "tall buildings are back," the company predicts that the groundbreaking techniques it used to push the Burj Khalifa to new heights should enable the construction of even taller towers in the future.

iReport: Share your photos of the world's tallest buildings

"As with any project, SOM's architects and engineers learned a great deal and are ready to apply this to the next world's tallest building as it is certainly possible to go taller," it said.

Video: Celebrating the Burj Khalifa
Video: World's tallest tower opens
Video: How Burj Dubai measures up
Gallery: Dubai opens world's tallest tower

Despite such lofty claims, the Burj Khalifa -- and other construction projects including the Palm Jumeirah and World archipelagos of man-made islands built for the super-rich -- have cast a financial shadow over Dubai.

Last year the emirate shocked investors by asking for a freeze on payments owed on its $26 billion in debts.

The announcement by Dubai World -- an umbrella group which includes the Burj Khalifa's developers --delivered a cold dose of reality to speculators worldwide who believed the oil-rich region was impervious to the global financial crisis.

Facts and figures: Why Dubai is looking up

While predicted economic recovery are likely to help Dubai to shake off some of its debt woes, if not fully regain its boom-time ebullience, some say the city's path of prestige over practicality will leave projects like the Burj Khalifa struggling to justify their place in the Gulf state's skyline.

"Dubai doesn't really need to have to build tall asides from prestige purposes," Jim Krane, author of "City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism" told CNN in a recent interview.

"If you look at it, it's a really bad idea. It uses as much electricity as an entire city. And every time the toilet is flushed they've got to pump water half a mile into the sky," he said.

The telescopic shape also presents problems of a more practical nature Krane says.

"The upper 30 or 40 floors are so tiny that they're useless, so they can't use them for anything else apart from storage. They've built a small, not so useful storage warehouse half a mile in the sky," he said.

CNN's Barry Neild and Matt Knight contributed to this story.

 
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