The Skyscraper Museum
Burj Dubai
The Skyscraper Museum

The Skyscraper Museum is devoted to the study of high-rise building, past, present, and future. The Museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate, and places of work and residence. This site will look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.


April 25 through October 14 2007

Click here for a virtual walk-through of the exhibit

Click here for the online archive of the lecture series organized in conjunction with the exhibition

The formal celebration of the opening of the tower was held on January 4, 2010 when the tower's original name "Burj Dubai" was changed to Burj Khalifa, in honor of the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The height of the completed tower now measures 828 meters, or 2,717 feet.

Original Exhibition Text:

The world’s tallest building is on the rise in the desert sands of Dubai, a city-state of 1.5 million in the United Arab Emirates. Scheduled for completion in 2008, Burj Dubai is phenomenally tall. Although its ultimate altitude remains a secret, the spire that stretches above its 160 stories will climb to at least 700 meters—about 2,300 feet, or nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building and 200 meters higher than the current title-holder, the 509 meter, 1671-foot tall Taipei 101 in Taiwan.

The ambition to erect the world’s tallest building is as old as the ages, and like the pyramids or gothic cathedrals, Burj Dubai is an epoch-defining tower and an architectural and engineering marvel that tackles unprecedented challenges of design and construction. The slender supertall represents the collective effort of ninety designers in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP and a team of consulting companies. An army of construction workers from 3,000 to 6,800 men labor daily on the site—or work night hours, when daytime temperatures of 100-120 degrees become too extreme.

The exhibition at The Skyscraper Museum places Burj Dubai in both the historical context of the competition for the world’s tallest building and in the contemporary arena of Dubai’s explosive growth. Fueled by government planning and investment in infrastructure such as airports, roads, and port facilities, in little more than a decade, the Emirate’s leadership has initiated and attracted aggressive real estate development, making Dubai today “the fastest growing city in the world.” For all of its vast open spaces, a principal direction of growth is vertical. Cranes are at work everywhere, with approximately 350 high-rises of 30+ stories currently under construction—more than in Shanghai, a city whose own construction boom seeks to accommodate ten times the population.

As the centerpiece of a 500-acre, US $20 billion complex known as Downtown Burj Dubai, the tower characterizes the bold real estate investment and profound wealth driving the city’s expansion. Developed by Emaar Properties PJSC, a publicly–traded company in which the government recently became the majority shareholder, the Downtown Burj Dubai complex will comprise the superlative skyscraper, the world’s largest entertainment and shopping mall, an artificial lagoon, landscaped parks and gardens, and a variety of neighborhoods of new high-rise housing and traditional villas.

Focusing on the design and construction of the tower, the exhibition features architectural models, drawings and computer animations, wind-tunnel models, construction photographs and videos, animations of elevators and façade machinery, and a section of the curtain-wall, among many other items. The installation also discusses Burj Dubai in the historical context of the competition to erect the world’s tallest building, comparing it to a line-up of famous 20th-century towers, including New York’s Woolworth, Chrysler, and Empire State buildings, as well as a special section on the Twin Towers and the rebuilding at Ground Zero.

The 21st-century Supertall
“We were excited to be able to present this exhibition while the Burj Dubai tower is still under construction and to draw attention to history in the making,” explains Carol Willis, Director of The Skyscraper Museum and curator for the current exhibit. “While there’s always a popular fascination with record-breaking height,” she notes, “Burj Dubai is also important because it characterizes a shift in the skyscraper paradigm in the 21st century. Until the 1990s, supertall skyscrapers were built only in the United States, and the world’s tallest towers were center-city office buildings. The largest ever in terms of overall scale, the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and the Sears Tower (all 110 stories) were constructed of steel, and each building contained more than 4 million square feet of office space.

Principally residential, Burj Dubai is built of reinforced concrete, rather than of steel, and is very slender in form and silhouette. The 160 tower floors reflect a mix of uses, with a boutique hotel in the base, apartments occupying levels 20 to 110, and boutique offices above. With floor plates half the area or less of Sears Tower, the Burj Dubai complex stretches the total volume in Sears over a thousand feet higher into the sky and creates its own autonomous urban environment.

William F. Baker, a partner at SOM and the chief structural engineer of Burj Dubai, has summarized the world-wide phenomenon of this new type of 21st-century supertall: "If skyscraper construction had stopped in 1990, one would say that the tallest skyscrapers are made of steel, built in the United States, and are office buildings. Today, one would say that the tallest skyscrapers are made of concrete or composite, are erected in Asia or the Middle East, and likely to be residential."

Defining “supertalls” as 380+ meters (c.1250 feet and higher) or 80+ stories, the exhibition maps their global expansion and especially their current popularity in Dubai. But while potential challengers to Burj Dubai’s projected height decorate drawing boards, it is clear that the tower now under construction will soar a thousand feet higher than many new supertalls and reign as the world’s tallest building for at least this decade.

The exhibition at The Skyscraper Museum has been organized with the assistance of Emaar Properties PJSC, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, the Samsung Corporation, Turner International, RWDI, Inc., Otis Elevator Company, Lerch Bates Inc. – Façade Access, and will be on view at the Battery Park City Gallery from April 25 through October 14 2007.

Click here for building facts and a comprehensive list of the consulting teams for the Burj Dubai project.

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