by Michael J. Crosbie
In 2007, several records fell as the Burj Dubai skyscraper climbed above that city-state's skyline. In May 2007, the Burj surpassed the height of the tallest building in the United States, the Sears Tower (recently renamed the Willis Tower), designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in the 1970s. SOM's Adrian Smith designed the Burj in the early years of the new millennium, but by the time the new skyscraper zoomed past Sears (at 1,450 feet, or 442 meters), Smith had left SOM to start his own firm.
Two months later, in July 2007, the Burj became the tallest building in the world, at 512.1 meters (1,680 feet), pushing past Taipei 101, which had held the title of world's tallest for only six years. By September, the Burj had broken another record: at 555 meters (1,821 feet) it was now the world's tallest freestanding structure, nosing past the CN Tower in Toronto by just two meters (6.6 feet). The Burj reached its final height at 828 meters (2,717 feet), just 172 meters shy of a kilometer, and over half a mile tall.
By the time the Burj opened in January 2010, the world seemed a very different place than when ground was broken. A worldwide financial crisis had sent real estate values tumbling, and Dubai, a city whose very existence has been sustained by real estate speculation, now sported the world's tallest empty building.
Most of the Burj — about 75 percent — is devoted to condominiums, sold years before on the bet that prices would keep climbing, just like the Burj. The tower's new name, the Burj Khalifa, honors Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, which bailed out the project financially by giving Dubai $10 billion.
Another change that occurred in the span of the Burj's construction was a growing global awareness of sustainability. The environmental impacts of such a building are enormous. The Burj Khalifa begs us to ask a more critical question than "Can it be done?"
That is: "Should it be done?"
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