Dubai tower that shines as bright as a diamond

Almas Tower, in the middle of Jumeirah Lakes Towers, is the tallest business tower in the Middle East.

DUBAI // When Ahmed bin Sulayem goes to work in the building that is home to Dubai's diamond exchange, he admits he can still "sometimes get a head rush".

It is no wonder. The Almas Tower is as impressive as they come, standing 360 metres tall on a small artificial island in the middle of Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT), jutting out far beyond the other buildings in the area with a spire that almost pierces the sky.

"There is no mistaking Almas Tower when you see JLT from a distance," said Mr bin Sulayem, executive chairman of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), which owns the building.

With 63 floors and five more underground, the Dh550 million tower is the tallest business tower in the Middle East, the third-tallest tower in Dubai, and the 18th-tallest in the world.

According to Shaun Killa, the architect at Atkins Middle East, which designed the tower, Almas "had to be the icon and the centrepiece" of JLT.

"All of the buildings around it were about 40 storeys and standing very closely together, so we were very conscious that this tower needed to be the tallest of all of them," said Mr Killa, whose company also designed the Burj Al Arab.

Almas is actually two towers - both oval-shaped - that interlock and have been "sliced" at an angle to create a slender look.

The surface of the south-facing tower, which is the tallest of the two and supports the mast, is made of high-performance reflective glass panels to protect it from the heat of the sun.

The north-facing side is more transparent, allowing the cooler ambient light to shine through.

Mr Killa said his firm's main objective was to build a tower that was timeless and elegant "and still look good and durable in 20 years time".

But looks are not everything; the tower's contents are more valuable than all of the building's components put together.

Almas, which means diamond in Arabic, is home to Dubai's commodity trade, which includes gold, pearls, precious metals, tea, cotton and, most importantly, diamonds.

In 2011, US$41 billion (Dh151bn) worth of diamonds passed through the building and Mr bin Sulayem estimates that almost every floor in the building has about $20m worth of diamonds on any given day.

"We made sure we would build a tower that the high net-worth diamonteers would be very proud of," he said.

It comes as no surprise that the building was inspired by the glittering facets of a cut diamond.

At the base of the superstructure is a three-storey podium shaped in eight triangles, the largest of which is cantilevered 35 metres over the lake with a see-through glass floor. This is the home of the Dubai Diamond Exchange.

"All of the textures and materials were very light to reflect the clarity of a diamond, and the podium was very strictly governed on this idea," Mr Killa said.

Franco Bosoni, the director of commodity services at DMCC, said the walls were made of glass to allow enough light into the room so diamond traders could properly assess and inspect their wares.

"Everything was thought out carefully when this floor was built," he said, adding that it was his favourite area.

But underground, on level B5, is where the heart of Almas pumps. Security cameras follow visitors every step of the way to the largest gold vault in the country. Only a handful of people have access.

According to Mr Bosoni, the 345-square metre vault, which is made of concrete and reinforced steel, is an independent structure that would survive if the tower collapsed.

A 160-square metre robotic diamond vault sits a few levels up on B1 where DMCC members can deposit or pick up their precious stones any time of the day, if they have proper security clearance.

"It's like an ATM machine," Mr Bosoni said.

Almost like a scene from Mission Impossible, one must undergo a retina scan, punch in a password, use a key and a swipe card before gaining access to the diamonds.

It has now been four years since the DMCC - which is the government authority in charge of business licensing and registration for the JLT Free Zone, and also acts as a regulator for the tower's commodity trade - moved its offices into Almas.

According to Mr bin Sulayem, going to work in the morning "still gives me flashbacks" of when Almas was just a mere model on the table.

"This tower gives me more than pride. It was a mission," he said.