Developers of a 1,680-foot skyscraper still under construction in oil-rich Dubai claimed this weekend that it has become the world's tallest building, surpassing Taiwan's Taipei 101 which has dominated the global skyline at 1,667 feet since 2004.
The Burj Dubai is expected to be finished by the end of 2008 and its planned final height has been kept secret. The state-owned development company Emaar Properties, one of the main builders in rapidly developing Dubai, said only that the tower would stop somewhere above 2,275 feet.
When completed, the skyscraper will feature more than 160 floors, 56 elevators, luxury apartments, boutiques, swimming pools, spas, exclusive corporate suites, Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani's first hotel, and a 124th floor observation platform.
After North American and Asian cities marked their 20th century economic booms with skyscrapers, the Gulf grew eager to show off its success with ever taller buildings. In Dubai, long an oil-rich Gulf symbol of rapid economic growth, the building reflects the city's hunger for global prestige.
"It's a symbol of Dubai as a city of the world," said Greg Sang, the project director for Emaar Properties.
Mohammed Ali Alabbar, chairman of Emaar, said it will be an architectural and engineering masterpiece of concrete, steel and glass. Dubai has "resisted the usual and has inspired to build a global icon," he said.
"It's a human achievement without equal."
The $1 billion skyscraper is in the heart of downtown Dubai, a 500-acre development area worth $20 billion. Construction, which began just 1,276 days ago, has been frenzied - at times, one storey rises every three days.
The tip of the Burj's spire will be seen for 60 miles, developers say. But Sang knows it will not dominate the world's skyline forever.
"It's a fact of life that, at some point, someone else will build a taller building," he said. "There's a lot of talk of other tall buildings, but five years into Burj Dubai's construction, no one's started building them yet," he said.
Previous skyscraper record-holders include New York's Empire State Building at 1,250 feet; Shanghai's Jin Mao Building at 1,381 feet; Chicago's Sears Tower at 1,451 feet; and Malaysia's Petronas Towers at 1,483 feet.
The Burj will let the Middle East reclaim the world's tallest structure. Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza, built around 2500 B.C., held the title with its 481 feet until the Eiffel Tower in Paris was built in 1889 at a height of 985 feet, or 1,023 feet including the flag pole.
The company says the Burj will fulfill the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat's four criteria for the tallest building: the height of the structural top, the highest occupied floor, the roof's top, and the spire's tip, pinnacle, antenna, mast or flag pole.
For now, the unattractive brownish concrete skeleton jutting into Dubai's humid skies lacks any aura of a masterpiece. Rising 141 floors with a mass of surrounding cranes and girders, it has no windows, glass or steel yet.
The architects and engineers are American and the main building contractor is South Korean.
Most of the 4,000 laborers are Indian. They toil around the clock in Dubai's sizzling summer with no set minimum wage. Human rights groups regularly protest against labor abuse in Dubai, but local media rarely report such complaints.