The Burj Dubai looks set to remain the world's tallest tower for at least five years. The global credit crisis has deterred lenders from financing commercially risky buildings that have an 80-year history of losing money dating back to New York's Empire State Building.
At least three other towers looked set at the start of the year to rival the 800 metre-plus building that opens tomorrow and forms the centrepiece of the US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) Downtown Burj Dubai development. One of them was to have been located on a site just a few kilometres away and was intended to be the next big project by Nakheel, part of the Dubai World conglomerate that is seeking to restructure about $22bn of debt.
But now the planned Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia looks to be the most likely rival to the Burj, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has said. "At this moment, the Kingdom Tower seems indeed to be the most serious contender for that title, but planning a next world tallest and actually completing one can be quite a difference," said Jan Klerks, the council's research manager. "Even if someone would start constructing today it will take another five years at least."
Emaar Properties, the developer of the Burj Dubai, could help to break its own record as it is expected to provide services for the planned 100 billion riyal (Dh97.92bn) project being developed by Kingdom Holding, the investment company controlled by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world's richest men. The deal is yet to be confirmed after Mohamed Alabbar, Emaar's chairman, said last June it was dependent on the conclusion of a number of contractual agreements. The tower is planned for the western Saudi city of Jeddah.
The Burj Dubai forms the centrepiece of one of the largest urban developments ever undertaken in the Middle East. The tower itself will include more than 1,000 apartments and 57 elevators transporting people up and down in record time. At the peak of construction, more than 12,000 workers and contractors were on the site every day. The total weight of aluminium used on the Burj Dubai is equivalent to that of five A380 superjumbo aircraft, while 24,348 panels were used to build its exterior walls. There is enough glass in the building to cover 14 football pitches.
It may be a long time before construction on such a grand scale is witnessed in the UAE. The opening of the tower is likely to signal the end of the trend of super-tall construction in Dubai, where scores of new towers have been built in the past decade. "I'd be surprised if you see any new launches in 2010 - I think there's still plenty of supply that needs to come on and be absorbed in the marketplace," said Ali Khan, a director at Arqaam Capital in Dubai. "That supply will have to be digested before anyone will launch or find funding.
"You will have to see the demand and supply equation fully balance itself out before looking for funding. If a developer feels there's an opportunity to launch a project, then they are likely to have seen opportunities to fund the project as well." Craig Plumb, the head of research for the MENA region at the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle, said the opening of the Burj Dubai marked the "end of an era" in the construction of tall buildings, not just locally but globally.
"It's safe to say that it will be the tallest for some time to come," he said. "I think over the next few years we're going to see more modesty and efficiency and less extravagance. "It's been known for some time that tall towers aren't the most profitable. For Dubai, it was a desire to put itself on the map. Going forward, financial sense will take over, making it more efficient to build 10 small buildings rather than one tall one."