World's Tallest (And Emptiest) Building Opens

Burj Dubai (now renamed as the Burj Khalifa), the world's tallest building, opened today in Dubai. But with the recent credit crunch and economic recession, the extravagant monument to boom times sits mostly empty.
January 4, 2010, 12pm PST | Nate Berg
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The building was recently renamed the Burj Khalifa after the ruler of neighboring Abu Dhabi, which has come to Dubai's rescue during tough economic times.

"Designed by Adrian Smith, a former partner in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Burj Dubai is an impossible-to-miss sign of the degree to which architectural ambition -- at least the kind that can be measured in feet or number of stories -- has migrated in recent years from North America and Europe to Asia and the Middle East. It is roughly as tall as the World Trade Center towers piled one atop the other. Its closest competition is Toronto's CN Tower, which is not really a building at all, holding only satellites and observation decks, and is in any case nearly 900 feet shorter.

Monday's ribbon-cutting, though, could hardly come at a more awkward time. Dubai, the most populous member of the United Arab Emirates, continues to deal with a massive real estate collapse that has sent shock waves through financial markets around the world and forced the ambitious city-state, in a significant blow to its pride, to seek repeated billion-dollar bailouts from neighboring Abu Dhabi. Conceived at the height of local optimism about Dubai's place in the region and the world, this seemingly endless bean-stock tower, which holds an Armani Hotel on its lower floors with apartments and offices above, has flooded Dubai with a good deal more residential and commercial space than the market can possibly bear."

Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times reports that the building remains mostly vacant. And despite the fact that its 900 apartments have been bought, most of them were bought as investments years ago during more prosperous times. His essay also looks at emptiness in architecture, a concept Americans are having a tough time wrapping their heads around.

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Published on Friday, January 1, 2010 in Los Angeles Times
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