Burj Khalifa: We speak to the people who made it possible Discuss this article
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The architect: George Efstathiou
We understand the building is inspired by a desert flower. Was it influenced by anything else?
The building is shaped like a Y, because this is a good model for residential layouts: it allows the maximum amount of perimeter for windows in living spaces and bedrooms. Tall buildings must be very efficient in their planning so that costs can be kept down. The pointed ends of the Y also resemble Islamic archways and there is Islamic patterning in the paving and floor patterns.
What was the most difficult thing about designing this building?
The forces of nature. Gravity, seismic waves (earthquakes), the wind, and the heat and humidity of the Dubai environment posed issues. The biggest single issue on a tower half a mile high is the wind. The tower shape and surface texture is designed in a wind tunnel to mitigate the wind and the forces they impose on the tower. Unequal pressures on either side of the building cause it to sway from side to side. We tried to minimise this sway in structural optimisation programmes, because the movements can be perceived by your middle ear if not handled properly.
Which other Dubai buildings do you like?
In Dubai, I believe that Infinity Tower, also designed by my company, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill [SOM], at Dubai Marina will become one of my favourites when it is completed. Rolex Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road is another building I like. They, along with Burj Khalifa, have the attributes of modern architecture that will allow them to stand the test of time.
What kind of house do you live in?
I just won an interior design award for my apartment. If you were to categorise it, I guess you could call it classic modern with a touch of minimalism.
Critics have said it’s not environmentally friendly to build the world’s tallest tower in the middle of the desert. What do you say to these accusations?
SOM has been practising energy-conscious design for almost 50 years. We have employed these finely honed techniques in Burj Khalifa to minimise its energy use. We have designed a very high-performance wall to keep out the desert heat and humidity. Burj Khalifa is part of a district cooling plan: we harvest condensate water on chilled pipes that essentially extract 15 million gallons of clean water from the atmosphere to irrigate the landscaping on the site; we ‘sky-source’ air from the upper elevations of the tower where the air is cooler and cleaner and draw it down into the building. Burj Khalifa predates the ‘green movement’, but we have taken measures to conserve energy. Until technology catches up with our desire to have green buildings, we can only do so much. Many of the steps are small, but when added together have a marked impact on its consumption.
Are you afraid of heights?
I’ve become accustomed to being up high. When we were visiting Burj Dubai under construction, riding an open-air personnel lift hanging off the building made my heart pound with excitement. It was like a thrill ride at a theme park.
Will you be having a little time off now? What will you do to relax?
There is never time to relax. We are out there searching for our next special client to help them realise their dream.
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