Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building and three others in the world’s top 50, so what is the reason for all these tall buildings in Dubai? The foundations of these enormous structures are rooted in the city’s history and its plans for the future.
One of the biggest influences on Dubai’s proliferation of skyscrapers is the hard economics of resources. Dubai does not have a lot of oil compared with other parts of the Middle East, and it is pinning its future on a being a vibrant, part of the world’s trade network.
Dubai’s oil and gas reserves are relatively small, contributing just 1 percent to the emirate’s GDP, and may even be exhausted by 2030. This has forced the Dubai government to look to other ways for the emirate to generate revenue and attract investment.
The government has encouraged developers and investors to invest in Dubai as a Middle Eastern trade and finance hub, well connected with world class transport links and supported by state-of-the art trade infrastructure.
Projects like the iconic Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, were designed as enormous advertisements for the city, attracting other developers around them, as well as making money in their own right.
Building high is efficient
Once the government realised it needed to invest in other sources of income it began encouraging international companies to open offices in the city.
Dubai was already an important transport hub in the region, and the new policies generated tremendous interest. This in turn created a surge in demand for property, which inevitably made property prices rise.
The competition for space made skyscrapers an attractive option for developers because the most efficient way to make the most money out of a property is to build up and so create as much floor space as possible to be leased out.
Tall buildings in Dubai draw international attention
The Burj Khalifa is a classic example of a building designed specifically as a status symbol which others would want to be near and to admire.
Dubai’s rulers have intentionally developed a city dominated by skyscrapers, with strategic plans aimed at creating a world class built environment that other cities would admire.
Skyscrapers are not the only manifestation of this plan, and many people will be familiar with the Palm Islands residential and hotel project. When seen from the air, this set of three artificial islands looks like a stylised palm tree enclosed in a circle.
Perhaps the greatest example of the Dubai government’s desire to create dramatic architectural statements is the Burj Khalifa itself.
The Khalifa was built mainly to be the tallest in the world, rather than a money-making enterprise on its own. It began life as the Burj Dubai, but was named after Sheikh Khalifa, the leader of the United Arab Emirates who rescued the project during the financial crisis.
At 828m it is by far the tallest structure ever built, and is nearly 200m higher than its nearest rival, Shanghai Tower. It also holds a host of other records, including the world’s highest nightclub, most floors and highest elevator.
However, it might not hold the record for much longer, as the Jedda Tower in Saudi Arabia is planned to be the world’s first 1km building when it is finished.
Other tall buildings in Dubai
While the Burj Khalifa unquestionably rules the skies of Dubai, the city has several other significant skyscrapers.
Marina 101, completed in 2015, is 425m tall, just over half the height of the Burj Khalifa, and is the second tallest residential tower in the world after New York’s 432 Park Avenue. Not far behind it is the Princess Tower, which was the world’s tallest residential tower for three years when it was completed in 2012.
Work is also underway on an enormous observation platform: Dubai Creek Tower, which is expected to be taller than the Burj Khalifa and is even rumoured to possibly reach an astonishing 1,300m.
Other architectural wonders of Dubai
As well as tall buildings, Dubai is known for being home to several other structures which are architectural wonders in their own right.
The Cayan Tower’s design incorporates a continuous twist, so that the top floor is twisted through 90 degrees around the central axis. When it opened in 2013 it was the world’s tallest twisted building, although it lost that record to Shanghai Tower in 2015.
The Burj Al Arab hotel is one of the most striking architectural features of Dubai, designed in the shape of a ship’s sail. Several famous publicity events have been held on its projecting helipad, including Andre Agassi playing tennis with Roger Federer.
It’s also worth mentioning the Dubai Mall, the second largest shopping centre in the world by land area, and two stunning hotels in The Palms: the wave-shaped Juneirah Beach, and Atlantis, where guests can gaze into a shark-filled aquarium.
When the city isn’t constructing enormous buildings, it is certainly creating special ones.
The tall buildings in Dubai are part of the city’s image as an innovative, ambitious and extravagant destination, and it seems likely that the skyline will only get taller and more spectacular in the future.
Marcus Briggs is an entrepreneur and non-executive director of Icon Gold and vice-president of Citi Group. He specialises in identifying and developing opportunities in the gold bullion markets of the Middle East and Africa. Read more at his blog here.