What's the new tallest building in the world?

The Burj Dubai could reach 2,275 feet by the time it is complete. See more pictures of Dubai.
The Burj Dubai could reach 2,275 feet by the time it is complete. See more pictures of Dubai.
George Rose/Getty Images

In the­ late­st pictures of Dubai'­s skyline, one building looms over the rest. The dark structure almost seems as though it's on a di­fferent scale -- like an oversized toy that got mixed in with a matching set. At 156 stories and growing, the Burj Khalifa (formerly called Burj Dubai) is, in fact, on a different scale. It's the new tallest building in the world and the new tallest structure in the world.

On July 22, 2007, the Burj hit 1,680 feet, pushing ahead of Taiwan's Taipei 101 by 13 feet. It then quickly surpassed Toronto's 1,815 foot CN Tower, which held the title of world's tallest freestanding structure for 31 years. At its grand opening in January 2010, the finished product had been renamed Burj Khalifa to honor the man who bailed the building out of debt, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi. And it stood 2,717 feet tall with roughly 160 stories.


That's taller than predicted. Speculators had forcasted that the building would reach about 2,275 feet. Skyscraper developers strive to build the world's tallest structures, and some developers will erect hasty towers or extend a roof to gain height over a rival.  Developers hoped the Burj would dominate all four criteria used by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat to measure skyscrapers. It would have the highes­t structural top, occupied floor, roof and spire in the world. The building now towers 1,000 feet above the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, which had been the tallest building in the world since 2004. It's also the tallest structure in the world.

The tower is only one of the booming city of Dubai's superlative plans -- plans that include the largest mall, the largest ski run and the largest artificial island. Yet, it was not conceived as such. Designers originally planned for a 90 story, three-wing building but Dubai's ruler and mastermind, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, pushed the developers, Emaar Properties, to sensationalize the project and build a globally recognized structure. Construction on the Burj started in January 2004.

In the next section, we'll learn about the components of the Burj Khalifa.


The New Tallest Building in the World

The Burj Dubai lights up the city
The Burj Dubai lights up the city

Perhaps it's surprising that the new tallest structure in the world would take its inspiration from a diminutive flower. Designers were motivated by the Hymenocallis genus's spidery, layered form. The Burj Khalifa makes use of a "buttressed core" and has a modular, Y-shaped structure, somewhat reminiscent of the flower's sculpted shape. Reinforced concrete walls surround a hexagonal concrete core. The tower is designed to withstand high winds and seismic events.

Inside the Burj Khalifa, the world's fastest elevators will whisk guests to an observation deck at 40 miles per hour. Other lifts will deposit residents at the 800 apartments between the 17th and 108th floors. The higher floors will house offices, while a club will span three levels in the 140s. Giorgio Armani even plans to open a hotel and designer-furnished residential suites in the building.


The Burj Dubai's innovative design is matched by its state-of-the-art systems. The US$20 billion site, including the tower and its surrounding buildings, will require 145,000 tons of refrigeration. Low temperature chillers that run on a special glycol solution will keep even the uppermost floors of the Burj cool. In case of system failure, an ice storage system will provide an alternative source of air-conditioning.

To prevent condensation buildup, a collection system will trap moisture formed inside of the air-conditioned tower, drain it to a holding tank and pump the salvaged water into an irrigation system. Ultimately, the system should collect 15 million gallons of water per year. Three track-mounted building maintenance machines will perform the work of a fleet of window-washers.

Construction on the tallest building in the world has progressed rapidly. It took only 1,276 days of work for the Burj Dubai to surpass Taipei 101. More than 30 contracting companies are working on the tower and the larger Burj Dubai development with a peak of 5,000 workers on-site at one time. However, construction has been interrupted as laborers protest low pay and poor working conditions. Dubai's contractors are often accused of treating their migrant workforce unfairly. In 2006, 2,500 laborers walked out of the Burj site and rioted for increased pay. Skilled carpenters make only about US$7.60 per day, while laborers earn $4 [BBC].

To learn more about the Burj Dubai, Dubai and other related topics, look at the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "Armani Hotel at Burj Dubai, United Arab Emirates." Hotel Management Network. http://www.hotelmanagement-network.com/projects/Armani/
  • Burj Dubai. http://www.burjdubai.com/
  • "CN Tower to lose height title 'by the end of this month.'" National Post. August 22, 2007. http://communities.canada.com/nationalpost/blogs/toronto/archive/2007/08/22/cn-tower-to-lose-height-title-by-the-end-of-this-month.aspx
  • Davis, Mike. "Dubai: Sinister Paradise." Mother Jones. July 14, 2005. http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/ colmns/2005/07/dubai_01_598x533.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.motherjones.com/ commentary/columns/2005/07/sinister_paradise2.html&h=533&w=598&sz=81& tbnid=icoEYKa
  • "Dubai skyscraper world's tallest." BBC News. July 22, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6910536.stm
  • "Emaar awards key contract for giant cooling system in Burj Dubai development." Zawya. July 13, 2005. http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidZAWYA20050713125711
  • "Strike halts work at Dubai tower." BBC News. March 23, 3006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4836632.stm