[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 8 August 2005, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Dubai reaches for the sky
By Irene Hell
BBC correspondent in Dubai

"History Rising" is the slogan of the gigantic construction project set in motion by Dubai ruler Sheikh Muhammad al-Maktoum last year.

It has now reached the stage of a 50-metre-deep (165ft) foundation being laid for what is planned as the world's tallest building Dubai Tower.

Model of Burj Dubai
Models of the tower give an impression of its height
The silver and steel tower, whose height is a secret, is a shining symbol of the new self-confidence of booming Dubai.

Chicago-based architect Adrian Smith, who designed the building, says he has tried to bridge the gap between Islamic tradition and ultra-modern Western architecture.

"Spirals come up in many forms in Islamic architecture," he says.

"The tower goes up in steps in a spiralling way. In Islamic architecture, this symbolises ascending towards the heavens."

A showroom model in the middle of the dusty 120-hectare (300-acre) desert site shows what the metropolis, complete with artificial lake, will look like.

In the middle, the silver tower looks like a gigantic arrow reaching halfway to the heavens.

"You know that the exact height is a secret," says Mr Smith. "But it is going to be substantially taller than the highest building, taller than 600 metres."

Lasting record

Nations have long competed to have the tallest edifice.

I like a challenge. If I see something impossible, I want to make it possible
Sheikh Muhammad al-Maktoum

The world's tallest building is currently Taiwan's Taipei 101 at 509 metres, but its glory is about to be eclipsed by mainland China.

Sheikh Muhammad, who owns some of the world's fastest horses and biggest private jets, does not want to be beaten that easily and Adrian Smith is determined to set a record that really lasts.

"Our observation deck will be the highest in the world. It has a non-stop elevator from the ground to the 124th floor. The whole building has about 154 floors."

Future residents are promised a state-of-the-art luxury "sky living" with fresh mangos every morning.

International hub

The ground pattern of the Dubai Tower, known by its Arabic name as Burj Dubai, is shaped like the flower of the hymenocallis, a white lily native to the deserts of the Arabia.

Foundations of Burj Dubai
The foundations are shaped like the flower of a desert lily
The only other reminder that Dubai is an Islamic country is the separate pool hours planned for women residents.

Thousands of workers, mainly from Asia, work relentlessly day and night to fulfil Sheikh Muhammad's ambitious vision of his city as world capital by 2010.

The cybersheikh, as he is known, is well aware that his oil resources are limited.

Tourism and a finance, media and information hub are intended as the new sources of Dubai's wealth.

Tower of Babel?

Some critics have been saying that Dubai - just two generations ago a primitive desert outpost - is moving too fast. Will the Dubai Tower be a new Tower of Babel, they ask?

But with more than 80% of the emirate's population now coming from abroad, Dubai is already a kind of Babel. And once it is ready, the $900m skyscraper with its 3,000 inhabitants is going to be a major landmark.

Does that mean it could be a target of terrorism? Mr Smith prefers to think not.

"The message of the Burj Dubai is one of hope and optimism. I think we should not be afraid of life. Otherwise what good is it?"

It is a vision shared by Sheikh Muhammad himself, as he drives to the construction site down Sheikh Zayed Road.

"I like challenge," he tells the BBC. "If I see something impossible, I want to make it possible.

"We have to approach the future, not wait for the future to come to us."

Taipei 101: A view from the top
31 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Samsung to build tallest building
09 Dec 04 |  Business
Workers' safety queried in Dubai
27 Sep 04 |  Middle East


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific