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Frank McGinity: The View from the Top of the World’s Tallest Building

Dubai's Burj Khalifa is a sight to behold, but you'll see a whole lot more

We recently had the opportunity to visit the tallest building in the world during a trip to Dubai. It is 828 meters (2,690 feet) high with 160 floors. It is the perfect symbol for Dubai — the biggest of everything. The emirate, one of seven in the United Arab Emirates, has the biggest shopping mall, the biggest book store, the most expensive cocktails, the most high-rises built or under construction in any part of the world. From our vantage point, Dubai has been the most creative city we have ever encountered.

To get to the top of the Burj Khalifa, we had to wait in line for 40 minutes for tickets and then pay $30 for the opportunity. But it was worth it. The elevator brought us to the 124th-floor observation deck in about one ear-popping minute.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill of Chicago designed the building. The architect was Adrian Smith, also from the United States. The building’s base is unusual in that it’s shaped in the form of a Hymenocallis flower. It will eventually be occupied as a hotel and apartments. It is reported that more than 12,000 expatriates worked on the building and they worked for very low wages. In fact, most of the population in Dubai, more than 80 percent, are expatriates with no citizenship.

As we looked out from the observation deck, we could see the many famous sights of Dubai. The well-known Burj Al Arab, the building shaped as a sail, is quite visible. (We had a martini on the 27th floor of that seven-star hotel and it cost $45.) You can see the Atlantis The Palm resort in the distance. And the newest project, called The World, can also be seen. The World is a series of 300 man-made islands shaped in the form of the world.

But you can also see partially completed buildings — I would estimate at least 70 — with their accompanying cranes. During our stay at the Raffles hotel, we never saw a crane move. Dubai is experiencing a financial crisis and is now unable to complete the very ambitious program it had for the city. The reported money that freely flowed, from Russia and Iran in particular, has dried up.

After descending from the exalted heights of the tallest building in the world, we made our way to the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping center in the world. It was spectacular, with every conceivable shop plus an occasional skating rink. Financial crisis or not, this city hums and is well recommended for an exciting vacation. And who knows, in a few years they might begin building their next planned skyscraper — a 2 kilometer-high, 400-floor building.

— Frank McGinity is a Santa Barbara resident.

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