The Burj Al Arab (Arabic: برج العرب, “Tower of the Arabs”) is a luxury hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates managed by the Jumeirah Group and built by Said Khalil. It was designed by Tom Wright of WS Atkins PLC.
At 321 metres (1,053 ft), it is the tallest building used exclusively as a hotel. However, the Rose Tower, also in Dubai, which has already topped Burj Al Arab’s height, will take away this title upon its opening in April 2008. The Burj Al Arab stands on an artificial island 280 metres (919 ft) out from Jumeirah beach, and is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. It is an iconic structure, designed to symbolize Dubai’s urban transformation and to mimic the sail of a boat.
Construction of Burj Al Arab began in 1994. It was built to resemble the sail of a dhow, a type of Arabian vessel. Two “wings” spread in a V to form a vast “mast”, while the space between them is enclosed in a massive atrium. Architect Tom Wright said “The client wanted a building that would become an iconic or symbolic statement for Dubai; this is very similar to Sydney with its Opera House, or Paris with the Eiffel Tower. It needed to be a building that would become synonymous with the name of the country.” The architect and engineering consultant for the project was Atkins, the UK’s largest multidisciplinary consultancy. The hotel was built by South African construction contractor Murray & Roberts. The hotel cost $650 million to build.
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Several features of the hotel required complex engineering feats to achieve. The hotel rests on an artificial island constructed 280 meters offshore. To secure a foundation, the builders drove 230 40-meter long concrete piles into the sand. The foundation is held in place not by bedrock, but by the friction of the sand and silt along the length of the piles.
Engineers created a surface layer of large rocks, which is circled with a concrete honey-comb pattern, which serves to protect the foundation from erosion. It took three years to reclaim the land from the sea, but less than three years to construct the building itself. The building contains over 70,000 cubic meters of concrete and 9,000 tons of steel.
Inside the building, the atrium is 180 meters (590 ft) tall. During the construction phase, to lower the interior temperature, the building was cooled by one degree per day over 6 months. This was to prevent large amounts of “condensation or in fact even a rain cloud from forming in the hotel during the period of construction.” This task was accomplished by several cold air nozzles, which point down from the top of the ceiling, and blast a 1 meter cold air pocket down the inside of the sail. This creates a buffer zone, which controls the interior temperature without massive energy costs.
Burj Al Arab characterizes itself as the world’s only “7-star” property, a designation considered by travel professionals to be hyperbole. All major travel guides and hotel rating systems have a 5-star maximum, which some hotels attempt to out-do by ascribing themselves “6-star” status. Yet according to the Burj Al Arab’s official site, the hotel is a “5-star deluxe hotel”. It is the world’s tallest structure with a membrane façade and the world’s tallest hotel (not including buildings with mixed use) and was the first 5-star hotel to surpass 1,000 ft (305 m) in height. Although it is characterized as the world’s only 7-Star Hotel, several “7 Star” hotels are under construction. These include the Flower of the East under construction in Kish, Iran, The Centaurus Complex under construction in Islamabad, Pakistan and a complex planned for Metro Manila in the Philippines.
The building design features a steel exoskeleton wrapped around a reinforced concrete tower. Notably the building is shaped like the sail of a dhow, with two “wings” spread in a V to form a vast “mast”. The space between the wings is enclosed by a Teflon-coated fibreglass sail, curving across the front of the building and creating an atrium inside. The sail is made of a material called Dyneon, spanning over 161,000 square feet (15,000 m²), consists of two layers, and is divided into twelve panels and installed vertically. The fabric is coated with DuPont Teflon to protect it from harsh desert heat, wind, and dirt; as a result, “the fabricators estimate that it will hold up for up to 50 years.”
During the day, the white fabric allows a soft, milky light inside the hotel, whereas a clear glass front would produce blinding amounts of glare and a constantly increasing temperature. At night, both inside and outside, the fabric is lit by color-changing lights.
Near the top of the building is a suspended helipad supported by a cantilever. The helipad has featured some of the hotel’s notable publicity events. Irish singer Ronan Keating shot his music video Iris on the helipad. In March 2004, professional golfer Tiger Woods hit several golf balls from the helipad into the Persian Gulf, while in February 2005, professional tennis players Roger Federer and Andre Agassi played an unranked game on the helipad, which was temporarily converted into a grass tennis court, at a height of 211 meters. The helipad has no borders or fences on the edges and if a player hit a winner the tennis balls would plunge down to the ground.
The interior was designed by Khuan Chew, Design Principal of KCA International. Other projects by Khuan Chew include the Sultan of Brunei‘s palace, Dubai International Airport, Jumeirah Beach Resort Development, Madinat Resort and much more.
The Burj Al Arab features the tallest atrium lobby in the world, at 180 meters (590 ft). The atrium is formed between the building’s V-shaped span. The atrium dominates the interior of the hotel, and takes up over one-third of interior space. It can accommodate the Dubai World Trade Center building, which, at 38 stories, was the tallest building in Dubai from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s.
While the exterior of the Burj Al Arab is expressed in terms of ultra-modern sculptural design, the interior guest space is a compilation of lavish and luxurious architectural styles from both the east and the west. The hotel boasts 8,000 square meters of 22-carat gold leaf and 24,000 square meters of 30 different types of marble.
In the mezzanine lobby, a fountain creates a “three-dimensional Islamic star pattern.” Pointed arches throughout, found in one of the hotel’s three restaurants, corridors between guest rooms, and at the top of the atrium recall a classic Arabian architectural design form.