UAE then and now: how Dubai's Burj Khalifa went from dream to world's tallest building

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Today, life in the Emirates moves in the fast lane. In a new regular series to mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE we take a little trip back in time and see just how much the country has changed.

When this photograph was taken in May 2006, the unfinished Burj Khalifa had reached 300 metres and equalled Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Indeed, the structure was already among the 20 tallest buildings in the world.

Four years and 530 metres later, the Burj was crowned the king of the sky-scrapers – and by some measure.

It is 200 metres taller than the second-placed Shanghai Tower, and close to twice the height of the Empire State Building, which held the title from 1931 for nearly 50 years.

It has been calculated that Burj Khalifa's spire alone would qualify it to be the 11th tallest building in Europe.

But numbers cannot convey the awesome size of Burj Khalifa, an icon of Dubai and a tribute to the The President, Sheikh Khalifa, when it opened on January 4, 2010. A year earlier it had already surpassed the previous title holder, Taipei 101.

Construction began in 2004 as the centrepiece of a new development, Downtown Dubai, that would also include the massive Dubai Mall and the spectacular dancing Dubai Fountain, which together create one of the world’s top tourist attractions. More recently, the striking Dubai Opera building has been added.

Burj Khalifa was designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings and Merrit and influenced by Islamic themes including the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq.

It uses a tubular system of construction, decreasing in size with its height to minimise wind resistance. Even so, it is estimated the tower sways 1.5 metres at its highest point.

Its observation deck, on the 124th floor is the highest in the world, while its lifts travel the longest distance. The building’s height also means that after viewing the sunset at ground level, it is possible to take the lift to the observation deck and watch it set again. During Ramadan, it also means the fast is broken four minutes later.

A decade later, Burj Khalifa's crown remains intact. Merdeka 118, due for completion next year in Kuala Lumpar will be the new second-tallest building, but reaching only 644 metres.

Under construction in Saudi Arabia since 2013, the Jeddah Tower is to be the world’s first one kilometre-high building, but is reported to have been on hold since 2018.

From dream to world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa - in pictures