Burj al Aratk
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
At night. the multitude of buildings under construction in Dubai are just silhouettes in the darkness. Lit up, though, are the congregations of cranes. They look like weird skeletal Meccano birds, feeding on the frames they perch on top of. It is said that one-fifth of the world’s largest cranes are in Dubai, hoisting floors higher and higher as the city literally reaches for most elevated status. Structural expressionism is definitely the ascendant architectural style here.
Worldwide, its most famous example is Burj al Arab, in English and in truth an Arabian Tower, standing many heads and shoulders above its neighbors. When architect Tom Wills-Wright was asked to submit designs for what was to be a landmark building on the Dubai skyline, he and the creative team reviewed other iconic buildings the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramidsaround the world. All have an unusual shape, so it was clear that for this new one to really catch the eye and imagination, it must have a remarkable form. Burj al Arab launched in 1999, and people have been looking up to it ever since.
The high-impact, high-altitude atrium is central to the prestigious hotel s unique design. It takes up a third of the interior space; with a height of 597 feet (182 m) it could shelter the Statue of Liberty. Its architect cites this as one of his favorite places; he likes to see people standing and staring up, or looking down to the lobby far below, amazed
Burj al Arab viewed from the Jumeirah Madinat hotel
Naturally, interior designer Ms. Kuan Chew wanted to continue the “wow effect” of the building inside, and deliver the timeless and unusual concept requested. The interior was viewed as radical when the hotel opened, its dazzling decoration making it an exuberant partner to the attentionattracting facade.
Then, in that era of minimalism, eschewing decorativeness, it would have been a surprise, a shock even, to see the great soundshell-like curves framing the reception desks, and the gold columns, curling gold garlands and silver-mirrored rails that frame the first five floors of the atrium.
Glamour in the atrium
Entrance to AI Mahara Seafood Restaurant
Colors of carpets and furnishings are vibrant and rich, not muted and pale. Pattern is conspicuous. The fact that thousands of square feet of 22-karat gold leaf have been used in the interior was met with astonishment.
To this recent viewer, the overall effect is stunning; a glamorous, even futuristic interior that appeals for its lively opulence and brave use of color within such an ethereal yet masterfully engineered white spire.
Water is a central feature; dancing arcs of it weave together in a graceful display, ajet of water shoots skyward, 138 feet (42 m) high. A waterfall cascades between the escalators to the atrium lounge in an artfully computer-choreographed sequence of mesmerizing movements. Even more captivating is the underwater-therned restaurant. Access is via a three-minute virtual submarine voyage. Once you disembark, you will dine on award-winning fare, seated beside the diverse sea life of the Arabian Gulf: leopard and reef sharks, manta rays, moray eels, butterfly, unicorn and parrot fish swimming in a massive floor -to-ceiling aquarium that wraps around the hotel’s signature restaurant.
The billowing sail of a traditional Arabian dhow was chosen as the essence of the design, transforming five years later into a spectacular hotel. Currently the world’s tallest hotel, it soars 1,053 feet (321 m) into the air. A helipad cantilevered out from its top Iloor has also served as a grass tennis court for Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, and a green for Tiger Woods. The sail’s translucent white fabric is actually Teflon-coated fiberglass, stretched across the steel structural frame. By day the glow of the white wall lights up the atrium; at night, the facade becomes a beacon, with a kinetic display of light in changing colors. Fire and water shows make an even greater spectacle.
ot long after Burj al Arab opened, an understandably enthusiastic journalist reported that her stay here was a “seven-star” experience. Although in fact the hotel is rated the highest of the star system at five-plus, it is indeed in a different galaxy in terms of its innovative design, its luxury suites, butler service and spa, and its ability to impress even the most jaded. It has become the pin-up poster of destination architecture.
A new Colossus of Dubai is taking shape. Currently under construction, Burj Dubai is a 2,650 foot (808 m) – and could be even higher – skyscraper designed by architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. When completed, it will be the tallest humanmade structure of any kind in history. Standing apart on its own island, curving white against the sky, Burj al Arab will keep its title as the instantly recognizable and iconic building on the Dubai skyline.
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