Design & Architecture

Reaching For The Stars

Reaching For The Stars

An overview of the most iconic landmark in Dubai and what makes it a design daydream.

Words by Aneesha Rai in Design & Architecture · Feb 15th, 2015

Assimilating the tallest building in a world is no mean feat. Drawing on a creative bank of architects, designers and artisans, it is a task to come up with a story that transcends time. The construction of the Burj Khalifa has withstood Dubai's economic recession, and is a beacon to how the city continues to grow from desert to metropolis despite its setbacks.  A product of tall building design experts Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) with Adrian Smith FAIA, RIBA; the project was chosen based on an extensive peer review program to confirm the safety and effectiveness of the structural systems. Here's an overview to the thought process behind the conceptualization of the tower:


The building is fashioned after a three-lobed structure derived from the shape of the Hymenocallis flower, a flower native to the region but is known for traveling across continents in a city known for its large expat population. As the flower's name suggests, the basic could be viewed as symbolic of the feminine virtue and the rise of the power of Middle Eastern women. The modular, Y-shaped structure with setbacks along each of its three wings provides stability and grounding for the structure as well as providing the building a better vista of the Arabian Gulf. The tower is reminiscent of onion domes, symbols of iconic Islamic architecture.

The base of the tower is held together by a 3.7 meters thick concrete mat that keeps the tower together through reinforced corridor walls and hammerhead walls. A whopping 40 wind tests were taken and utmost care was taken in order to beat the chimney effect that plagues most skyscrapers. Its exterior cladding is designed to keep the tower cool despite the unforgivable Dubai summers. Using reflective glazing along with aluminium, textured stainless steel spandrel panels and tubular stainless steel. Each of these 26,000 glass panels were individually hand-cut, with over 300 specialists flown in from China to work on the tower; culminating in a curtain wall equivalent to 17 football fields. 

View of the entrance to the Burj Khalifa

The spire at the tip of the Burj Khalifa helps top the tower with elegance in addition to housing communications equipment. The four floors below the spire also assist with communications. The tower's water system supplies an average of 946,000 litres (250,000 gallons) and the cooling system is so strong, it has the capacity akin to 10,000 tons of melting ice. A condensation system is implemented, equivalent to having a capacity of 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

What does a person do in case of fire safety for such a massive building? The fireman's elevator alone will have a capacity of 5,500 kg and has the record of the world's tallest service elevator. There are pressurized, air-conditioned refuge areas located approximately every 25 floors.

From the base all the way to level 8 in addition to the levels 38 and 39 features the haute Armani Hotel Dubai. The company's interior design team have additionally designed tasteful and luxurious one and two bedroom residences between levels 9 to 16. Private, ultra-luxury residences span the 45th to 108th floors. Three sky lobbies feature top-end fitness facilities and jacuzzis; two of which have swimming pools. Residents can also take advantage of a library and Lafayette Gourmet, a convenience store. Most of the remaining floors are for corporate suites, with the exception of the popular restaurant At.mosphere on level 122 and the public observatory on level 124, otherwise known as At The Top. Both guests and visitors may avail of valet parking services when they visit the tower.

All 26,000 glass panels were individually cut.


Most of the interiors of the building provide a mesh of the local culture and classic design. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill worked on the interiors of the building in collaboration with award-winning designer Nada Andric. The interiors of the tower are versatile, with use of glass, stainless steel and dark stones  and silver travertine flooring. Some of the more opulent features are its Venetian stucco walls, handmade rugs and stone flooring. All the interiors were carefully hand-picked. One of the architects of the building even claimed that they had flown to Brazil to pick out veneers.

Tasteful interiors at the Armani Residences.


The building's project developer Emaar commissioned several artists to produce paintings for the building and the surrounding Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard. These pieces feature works of both Middle Eastern and international artists coming together to paint the theme of global harmony. The Burj Khalifa and the boulevard feature  over a 1,000 pieces of art in total.

Stunning futuristic art pieces grace the tower.

In the words of Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, “We, in the UAE, have no such word as “impossible”; it does not exist in our lexicon. Such a word is used by the lazy and the weak, who fear challenges and progress. When one doubts his potential and capabilities as well as his confidence, he will lose the compass that leads him to success and excellence, thus failing to achieve his goal. I require you, youth, to insist on number one.” That, we think pretty much sums up the staggering success that Dubai has achieved, and what the Burj Khalifa truly stands for: reaching for the stars.