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Skyscraper snubbed

January 6, 2010

German architects have hit out at the newly-unveiled Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, as an unsustainable contribution to global building practices. Some say the skyscraper is a monument to the power of money.

The Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building
The tower is seen as a symbol of Dubai's ambitionsImage: picture alliance / dpa

The 828-meter-high (2,717 feet) needle-shaped Burj Khalifa tower was inaugurated during a grand ceremony earlier this week in Dubai.

The structure is 319 meters taller than the Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan, which was previously the world's tallest building, and twice the height of the Empire State Building.

The tower's builder, Emaar Properties, has said the Burj heralds a new dawn for Dubai.

But the architectural feat has failed to impress some German architects who questioned the reasons that it was built. The building cost more than one billion euros to build at a time when Dubai is in the grip of a major financial meltdown.

"Nobody knows where the planning hubris of the sheikhs will lead," Christian Baumgart, president of the German Architects' Association (DAI) said.

"The power of money"

The monumental nature of the glass-and-steel structure is widely seen as a symbol of Dubai's ambitions.

"You have to ask, 'Why we are building all this?' To bring quality of life and a smile to people - and I think we should continue to do that," Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties, told reporters this week. "Crises come and go," Alabbar said. "We build for years to come ... We must have hope and optimism."

A picture of the tower in the early evening, from a street
The exterior of the tower is covered in about 26,000 glass panelsImage: picture alliance / abaca

But concerns about Dubai's $100-billion debt pile, and the fact that the tower was built during the boom years but finished during a global property crash, have led some to question the excessiveness of the project.

Architect Meinhard von Gerkan said the skyscraper was "an economically pointless symbol of prestige, representing the power of money."

Gerkan, who designed Berlin's central train station, told Germany's Deutschlandradio that buildings with such high maintenance and construction costs never made a profit.

A statement on the German Architects' Association Web site asked where the excessiveness of such gestures would lead.

"Architecture is about value and is not defined by higher, bigger, further," Baumgart said.

Burj Dubai a bad example for Europe

The architect said that the tower offered a cautionary tale for builders in Europe.

Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building
The 162-storey Burj Dubai was unveiled in a glitzy ceremonyImage: AP

"One thing is sure though: what has become a glass and ferroconcrete desert hardly represents a sustainable contribution to building practices around the world," Baumgart said.

In Europe, he said, the emphasis was on refurbishing and upgrading existing buildings rather than building bigger ones.

"The challenges in Europe have less to do with the creation of more and higher buildings but rather specialized restoration, switching to energy-efficient construction and the sustainable use of buildings for healthy living and working."

The tower was to have been known as the Burj Dubai, but was renamed in honor of Sheikh Khalifa, ruler of the neighboring city-state of Abu Dhabi. He is credited with having bailed out Dubai after the collapse of state-owned development enterprise Dubai World.

Editor: Sonia Phalnikar