Mystery of Burj Khalifa I Facts about the tallest building in the world
November 20, 2023
Dubai’s sandy soil started being dug to build the tallest building in the world. Around the end of 2004, world’s tallest building was Taipei 101. Located in Taiwan, this building was a little over 500m tall. But the goal they set out to achieve in Dubai, was unimaginable and record-breaking. They wanted a building so tall that not only would it be the tallest building in the world but also be 62% taller than the second-tallest building. The difference between the tallest and second tallest would discourage anyone attempting to break its record. Before Burj Khalifa, the previous world’s tallest buildings, were about 5%-10% taller than their predecessor. At most, 19% taller. But here, they were aiming to build it 829m tall. A difference of 62%. In this blog post we are going to discuss the Mystery of Burj Khalifa -How Tall can Humans Build?
It took about 5.5 years to construct this building, and on 1st October 2009, the construction of the Burj al Khalifa ended, and this building left the world astounded. After the success of Burj Khalifa, several countries announced that they’ll build even taller buildings.
Many attempted it. But till now, all plans have flopped. It has been more than 13 years, and till now, the record set by Burj Khalifa remains unbeaten. Why? Why is it so difficult to beat this record? And practically speaking, how tall can the buildings built by humans be? Come, in this post, let’s try to understand this.
“When the Burj in Dubai is complete it will be the tallest structure that mankind has ever built on the face of the planet. Until someone builds an even bigger one.” “This is the story of the tallest tower mankind has ever built. Hald a mile high.”
Other Tallest Structures of the World
About 4,000 years the tallest structure built by humans was It was built around 2500 BC as a tomb for the Pharaoh Khufu. Its height is 145m. This record was broken only after the 1300s, when a cathedral was built in England that was ~160m tall. For the next 500 years, this record was beaten by a series of churches, until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889. But then, Eiffel Tower isn’t precisely a building. It’s not a building in which people can stay or work in.
In terms of proper buildings, this building by Chicago Home Insurance, built in 1884, is known as the world’s first skyscraper. This was a building built for humans. Where people went to work, it was used as an office space. Before this, the previous tall structures, were either built for monarchs, or for Gods. This was a major turning point in human history. Though this building was only 55m tall. Shorter than the Great Pyramid of Giza. But only after this, did we get the innovation and technology that we could build habitable skyscrapers. When the competition to build tall buildings began, it was limited to New York and Chicago.Because America was the world’s largest and most productive economy till the end of the 19th century. And these 2 cities were central to the most economic boom. Many people wanted to live in these cities. Big companies wanted big office spaces, and to accommodate people better in the city, these skyscrapers had to be built.
Some honourable mentions here, New York’s Empire State Building. It remained the world’s tallest building from 1931 to 1971. It held the record for 40 years. And in the modern context, it held the record for the longest time. It was beaten in 1971 by another building in New York. the World Trade Centre at 417m.
9% taller than Empire State Building’s 381m. In 1998, the competition spread out of America, and shifted towards Asia. When the Petronas Towers were built in Kuala Lumpur at the height of 452m. They held the status of the world’s tallest building till 2004, after which, it was beaten by Taipei 101.
And in 2009, with the biggest margin, Burj Khalifa beat all of them. From 510m, to 829m. Initially, when Burj Khalifa was being planned, its initial proposed height was around 550m. During planning, they kept on increasing the height, until it was as tall as we know. At that time, the brief of the tower was to design a tower which was 550m.
Which was then slightly taller than the world record holder at that time which was Taipei 101. And there was a desire to go higher. And not only break the record by a little bit, but break it by a big margin. The reason was that in the downtown area of Dubai this building would be the centre piece attraction.
Few Interesting Facts About Burj Khalifa
Before the 1990s, Dubai was basically a village for fishing and pearl diving. That had discovered oil recently. But by the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the leaders in Dubai wanted to diversify their economy. To move beyond the dependence on oil. They wanted to make Dubai an international tourism hub. To grab international attention and to bring foreign investment, they had to do something to surprise the world.
Burj Khalifa is so tall that if you jump out from its top, it will take you 13 seconds to fall to the ground. Without any air resistance. But if you account for the air resistance then, to fall to the ground from the very top, it might take you up to 20 seconds. Burj Khalifa is so tall that if you watch the sunset from the ground, and then take the lift to its top, you can watch the sunset again.
It cost $1.5 billion to build this. With more than 12,000 workers, with more than 100 distinct nationalities and spend 22 million man-hours. But obviously, the purpose of building it turned out to be quite successful. Today, not only has Dubai become an international hub for tourism, but also an economic hub.
A large number of companies want to have their office in Dubai. People were to live in Dubai. Want to buy property there. And the downtown area where this Burj Khalifa was built property prices have skyrocketed so much that this $1.5 billion was easily recovered.
What is So Special About The Burj Khalifa That Makes It So Difficult to Beat It
The question arises, what is so special about the Burj Khalifa that makes it so difficult to beat it? And if someone tries to build a taller building, realistically, how tall can we build? To understand this, we need to first understand the problems that are encountered while building such tall buildings.
so it needs to be ensured that there’s no damage due to the winds. And the Burj Khalifa overcame these challenges, due to its innovative design. If you look at the design from the top, it’s in a Y shape. Similar to a tripod, this building has three wings. Supported by a hexagonal core at the centre of the building. This structural system is known as the Buttressed Core. This was invented by Burj Khalifa’s structural engineer Bill Baker. This structural system was used for the first time in South Korea’s Tower Palace 3.
With the height of 264m. After its success, the architects realised that using this system can help build taller buildings. And only with its help, Burj Khalifa could be so tall. So tall that the second-tallest building was 300m shorter. And Burj Khalifa was only the second building in the world to use this Buttressed core system. With the help of this system, the impact of the strong winds that blow can be reduced. Compare this to the new residential building in New York that have been built very tall and fall under the category of Super Tall but without using the Buttressed Core system. What needs to be done in those buildings? To be safe from the winds, a few floors must be left empty.So that the winds could pass through. Such as this 432 Park Avenue building.
Apart from this, Burj Khalifa’s foundation, has 192 concrete and steel columns under it. They extend to 50m into the ground. Similarly, the building above ground needed concrete too. Concrete had to be delivered to the very top.
To do this, the world’s largest concrete pumps were built so that Burj Khalifa could be built. The exterior of the building uses more than 100,000m² glass as you can see in the photos. But an even more surprising fact is that the exterior of the Burj Khalifa forms the world’s largest LED screen. This is why you can watch light shows on Burj Khalifa.
You can see colourful designs and patterns, and even movie trailers. Recently, before the release of the film Pathaan, Shah Rukh Khan was in front of the Burj Khalifa when the trailer of Pathaan was being shown on Burj Khalifa. How can this be possible? The entire movie trailer being shown on a building. You might think that this is a projection.That the trailer was being projected onto the building by a projector. It wasn’t. There are LED lights on the building Such as the tiny LED lights on your computer screens and TV, There are 1.2 million LED lights on this building in total From up close, the LED lights look like this. Each light is quite large.
(09:26) But if you see these 1.2 million LED lights from afar, it’ll feel as if you are watching a TV screen. It enables videos of any length to be played on this building. And you might be wondering that when videos are being played, won’t it create problems for the people inside the Burj Khalifa? Wouldn’t they see films playing on the windows or these lights? No, they won’t.
Next time when you visit the Burj Khalifa during the light show look closely and you’ll notice that these lights aren’t spread out all over the building. They are installed only on the frames. And that is enough to watch a video from a distance. The frames on the exterior of these skyscrapers, are often made of aluminium composite.
Buildings this tall have another problem. Suppose you are on the 160th floor of the Burj Khalifa, and a fire breaks out in the building. Will you climb down the stairs for 160 floors? For such scenarios, in cases of emergency, after every 25 floors, there are pressurised and air-conditioned refuge areas. Additionally, staircases have been built with fire-proof concrete to limit the spread of fire.
Let’s See the buildings that can be taller than the Burj Khalifa in future.
Here, it is interesting to note that, over the last 12 years, even though no building could beat the Burj Khalifa, the 20 tallest buildings currently, have been built after the Burj Khalifa. Such as the Merdeka 118 at 679m. Under construction in Kuala Lumpur. It will be officially inaugurated in mid-2023. But it has already become the second-tallest building in the world.Though it’s a commendable effort but 679m is still far from 829m.
Several buildings have been planned to be taller than the Burj Khalifa. Of which, at least 2 of the buildings are already under construction. The first is the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia. If it is constructed as planned it will be the first building to exceed the height of 1km.Its design is quite similar to the Burj Khalifa, because both buildings have the same architect. Once again, Adrian Smith followed the Y-shaped design to bring in structural integrity. Once again, the purpose for building this is to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy so that it doesn’t need to rely on oil only. Similar to the Burj Khalifa, this building would be used to build a new district. Jeddah Economic City. The construction of this building began in 2013, And about 1/4th of the tower was constructed but unfortunately, in early 2018 the construction was halted. Since then, the construction hasn’t restarted. The thing is, between 2017-2019 there was an anti-corruption purge in Saudi Arabia, and the major investors investing in this project were arrested. And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. And the delay still continues. Publicly, no one knows when the construction will restart, but if it is restarted, this is the only building that can break Burj Khalifa’s record.
The second project that has a high potential is in Dubai, the Dubai Creek Tower. This Creek Tower designed by a Spanish architect will be an observation tower in Dubai. It was planned around 2016-2018 and the foundation has been laid already. but the construction is stopped here as well. Originally, it was planned to be inaugurated during the 2020 Expo, but it couldn’t happen. The exact height of this tower has not been revealed yet, but it is believed to be between 838m-1,300m. This tower may beat the Jeddah Tower in terms of height, but this tower will not fit into the tallest ‘building’ category. Because as per the plans, there will be no residential or commercial spaces here.This is being planned as a simple observation deck, Such as the Eiffel Tower. But the construction is halted here as well. And we do not know when and if it will restart. So if not these two, which buildings can beat the Burj Khalifa in future? This question takes an imaginary turn here. Because the rest of the planned projects, have been planned and announced but work on them hasn’t started yet.
Such as the Mubarak Al-Kabir Tower planned in Kuwait. Proposed in 2007, it was supposed to be 1,001m tall. Its overall design was quite similar to that of the Burj Khalifa, but construction has not begun on it. So no one can estimate when it will be built. It is only a proposed plan now. If this sounds like an amazing plan, an even more astounding plan is the Sky Mile Tower in Tokyo. A 1.7km tall building. For 500,000 people to live. Look at the photos of this proposed building. Its overall shape is similar to Burj Khalifa’s. But if such a tall tower has to be built, it will be very challenging to control the winds. This is why there are these big gaps in the proposed design, so that the winds can flow through the building.These are proper vertical slots, and this project is included in a visionary megacity project. Known as the Next Tokyo. The Japanese government will try to build a Next Tokyo near Tokyo. Till now, the plan is entirely theoretical, construction hasn’t begun. But if it does begin, it is estimated that it will be completed by 2045.
Overall, there’s little chance that even in the next 25 years, there will be a building that can beat the design of Burj Khalifa. The innovative design that made it possible for Burj Khalifa to be so tall. Even in the past 10 years, there were several projects for buildings taller than 800m, that were planned and then later cancelled.
Such as in 2012, in Azerbaijan, a 1km tall building was planned. It was later cancelled. In 2013, China planned to build an 838m tall Sky City Scraper, due to environmental concerns, this didn’t receive government approval, this project was cancelled in 2016. The plans beyond Tokyo’s Sky Mile Tower plans for taller buildings, are so imaginary, that they belong to the science-fiction category.
Such as the plan for Tokyo’s X-Seed 4000 building. A visionary project of building such a tall structure in Tokyo, A 4km tall building. Taller than Mount Fuji. With 1 million people living in it. It will look like this. Like a mountain. This was planned in 1995, but this is only a plan, no work has been done on this.
Another such plan is to build a Space Elevator. A cabled structured so tall that it will take you to space, so ease transport between Earth and space.
The question remains, practically, how tall can we build? The structural engineer of Burj Khalifa, Bill Baker claims that if we use a modified version of the Buttressed Core, we can possibly build a building with a height of more than 2 miles. He says it’s possible to build a building taller than 3 km. He even claims that theoretically, we can build a building taller than Mount Everest. But practically, the problem would be the taller the building gets, the more weight you put on the floors at the bottom. The force on the lower levels of the building, and the force of the strong winds at the top of the building, will be the two major challenges in building the tallest building possible.We can definitely use innovative design, engineering, and construction techniques, but what will happen if your material gives up? As of now, the materials that we know of, such as concrete, steel, aluminium, all have a limit. If we want to exceed these limits, we will need to invent such materials that are lighter and more durable than these. A promising material that is said to be is Carbon Fibre. Lightweight fibres made of carbon, woven like a mesh. It is stronger and lighter than steel, and perhaps it will enable us to build taller buildings. But before these complex engineering problems, there will be the problem of the human body. As buildings cross the mark of 1. 5km-3km, the altitude will be so high that there will be differences in the air pressure. If you’ve gone to Leh Ladakh, you would’ve noticed, how for the first couple of days there, you suffer nausea and dizziness, because your body needs to acclimatize due to the lower oxygen levels at the height. When you climb a mountain, this can happen slowly, but if we built such a tall building that’s 2 km tall, when you take the elevator to instantly go from the ground floor to the top, your body will face the same problems unless the air pressure is controlled inside the building. First of all, this will be extremely expensive, and secondly, it will mean that balconies cannot be constructed on higher floors. And even if you made them, no one would be allowed to go there. These things will need to be kept in mind. And even before the human body’s problems is the socio-economic limitations.
The biggest problem why such buildings aren’t built. Money. There’s no guarantee that each building will be as successful as Burj Khalifa, that there will be such levels of economic boom around it. Investors will need to spend thousands of millions to fund such buildings. Funding such buildings would mean extremely high risks. How many people would want to fund it? Additionally, this will require the support of the local government, but many governments will not support these. Because in most countries, funds could be better utilised. In developing countries like India, if the government invests all its funds in such projects to build the tallest building possible, it will be a huge wastage. This is why even in China, recently, the Chinese government passed a law that that they will not allow any building to be built taller than 500m. Any building being built taller than that would be simply for vanity. Practically, it is a wastage of money The energy consumption of such a building would be very high and public funds will be wasted. And since there was no need, they banned it. According to the laws of the Chinese government, in cities with up to 3 million people, the height limit for the skyscrapers has been set at 250m. Friends, it is really important to pay attention to one thing here. there are very few cities all around the world where the socio-economic factors would allow the world’s tallest building being built there.
About 100 years ago, these cities were New York and Chicago, That witnessed an economic boom. Hordes of people were moving in. There was a demand to build more homes and offices in a limited space, and so skyscrapers were born there. In the 21st century, this was seen to some extent in Chinese and Taiwanese cities, that’s why you see so many skyscrapers in those cities, but they aren’t so tall that they couldn’t be profitable. And then there were the Middle Eastern countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where the government wants to reduce oil dependence, and the government has a lot of money from oil, So it was possible to do this in such places to a large extent. Friends, this is the reason why, for now, and for the foreseeable future at least, Burj Khalifa will remain the World’s Tallest Building.
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