Timeframe: Burj Al Arab has become much more than a luxury hotel

Since its construction more than 20 years ago, Dubai’s most recognisable building is still a symbol of great vision

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On December 1, 1999, the Dubai cityscape changed for ever.

Burj Al Arab in Jumeirah was the first of many architectural feats the UAE would build to dazzle the world.

Designed by British architect Tom Wright, the hotel was built in the shape of a dhow, the traditional Arab ship, on a man-made island 280m off the Dubai shore. The design of the building reimagined the traditional vessel with its piercing sail to not only reflect Dubai′s seafaring heritage, but to add a modern, universal and unique aesthetic, symbolic of the UAE’s forward vision.

Construction on the project began in 1994. It took two years to create the island and another three years to build the property. From its official opening, and since then, it has broken several world records. It is 321m tall and was the tallest hotel in the world when it was built,― it is still the third tallest.

The Terrace, the Burj’s 10,000sqm luxury platform, is the first man-made luxury beach facility, which has two pools and a 1,120sqm beach area which was created using 1,000 tonnes of imported white sand.

Inside the hotel is the largest Swarovski crystal ceiling in the world, where an installation worth Dh1.3 million ($353,982), recreated the Milky Way by using 21,000 crystals.

Approximately 1,790sqm of 24-carat gold leaf is used to embellish the interior of the hotel, which was designed by British Chinese interior designer Khuan Chew.

Chew researched Arab poetry, science and astronomy, and his design explores the theme of Life in the Desert. The interior of the hotel was designed in sections, honing in on the idea of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water.

The hotel's helipad has always been a point of international interest. In 2004, pro golfer Tiger Woods teed off from the helipad and, the following year, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer had a game of tennis on a makeshift court, while in 2013, champions Ma Long and Liu Shiwen played the first table tennis match on the Burj’s platform, and in 2017, professional kitesurfer Nick Jacobsen jumped off the helipad with his kiteboard, in a world first.

There’s no denying that the Burj redefined hotel luxury, introducing the idea of the "seven-star hotel" and reframed the UAE to the global mainstream. Yet the Burj is more than a hotel.

Indelibly linked to the city’s visual identity, an incredibly popular tourist destination and a local point of pride, the Burj, 23 years since its construction, is a reminder and symbol of how far the UAE has come and what Dubai envisions for itself.

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Updated: December 03, 2022, 9:33 AM