View to a thrill

Arabian Business scales Burj Dubai's full height, and takes photographs from the highest point of any structure on the planet.

On Saturday 21 July 2007, at 141 storeys and 512 metres high, the Burj Dubai officially became the world's tallest building. Two days later, editor James Bennett, photographer Ayaad Damouni and the Arabian Business team were given unprecedented access to the mega-tower, scaling its full height - and allowed to take photographs from the highest point of any structure on the planet.

The trip to the top

12.30pmThe thought of being 141 storeys (1680 feet) high is beginning to take my breath away, and that of the entire Arabian Business editorial team. We turn a sharp left into the Burj Dubai construction site - a melée of trucks, blue-overalled workers and Portakabins surrounds us as we continue to drive down the sandy track towards the impossible-to-miss tower. Minutes away from the building we all swivel round simultaneously to see an enormous hoarding alerting us to the fact that the Burj has reached a gigantic 141 floors. "Do we have to go up there?" says one person nervously biting his fingernails. "Yes we do, and when you get to the top, you'll be glad you did what you're about to do," someone replies.

1.00pmWe are greeted by an Emaar PR representative who guides us past the main security gate and into the site office to collect bullet-silver coloured hard hats and a much needed bottle of Masafi. "You'll need this up there, it's going to be hot." We all sigh collectively. One team member goes to his car to check the temperature, 47 degrees, the second hottest day of the year so far. Great. We all sweat in silence, eager to climb the tower Emaar chairman Mohammed Ali Alabbar labelled "a human achievement without equal". 25 minutes later we would find out just why he was right.

1.05pm"Change your shoes please, then sit down and listen carefully," booms the voice of Emaar's chief site supervisor. "Call me Muckti for short. Did you know it's going to be a hot one? You might want to take your jackets off?" We all nod silently. "We've heard that somewhere before," we say already pouring with sweat.

1.06pmSafety first - the supervisor briefs us in one of the site's many Portakabins. The air is as thin indoors as it is outdoors. Muckti explains the dangers involved in going to the top of the world's tallest building. "There is to be absolutely no smoking, keep your hard hats on, do not lean over the edges and if you are afraid of heights I would stay seated if I were you." He adds that paramedics are on call 24 hours a day. Colourful posters are spread around the training room with text translated in three languages: Arabic, English, and Urdu.

"Now can you all please sign this liability form before we leave in case anything happens." We all sign but only a few of us get up willingly.

"Any questions?" Muckti asks as we walk towards the express hoist lift. No one answers as we all stare skywards to the top of the tower, shrouded by clouds.

The walk to the express lift is longer than we first thought. Initially we climb up a short set of stairs only to be led downwards into the darkness of the Burj's basement. This huge space is temporarily being used as a materials storage centre, but in just under 18 months time, when the project is opened for business with a glamorous party planned on New Year's Eve 2008, it will be converted into an incredible 30,000 parking spaces to cater for the massive amount of residents and guests it will occupy.

I'm now sweating so much my glasses slide off the bridge of my nose.
When we get to the entrance to the eight hoist lifts that run up and down the Burj Dubai we are greeted by a dozen labourers waiting patiently to climb 1680 feet to continue working on this amazing structure.

We meet project director Greg Sang who will guide us on our journey.

The lifts take time to arrive. The adrenaline is pumping. The lift arrives. We are full of nerves and excitement. The lift doors open.

1.25pm"The lift moves 150m in 90 seconds," says Muckti. "We can fit 30 people in it in one time. We'll be there in no time at all."

The cage lift double doors are locked and closed. We're ready to go. A few buttons are pressed and a loud whirring noise engulfs the enclosed space. The ride to the top is surprisingly smooth and as the height of the cage comes up to most people's chests we don't feel as though we are that high. If only we were looking at ourselves being pulled upwards from below, then we'd have a completely different perspective.

1.26pmFloors pass by in a blur. The silver heat-reflecting cladding that Emaar started placing on the building six weeks ago flashes visibly before us. Dubai's skyline becomes increasingly distant with every second that goes by. A third of the way there.

1.27pmWe pass floor 50. I turn to the electronic panel to see one storey tick by every second. The heat is less intense now we are higher and a breeze drifts through the cage gaps.

Floor 100 goes by. The haze in the sky that the sun is so desperately trying to burn off thickens. We are all stunned by the tower's colossal height and the spectacular pace of construction - one floor completed every three days. Despite two on-the-record deaths in three years, safety precautions and warning and safety signs are everywhere we look.

1.31pmWe arrive at our final destination - floor 141 - and step out of the cage into the light and an incredibly fresh breeze. Gone is the feeling of a hair dryer permanently blowing in your face.

A staggering panorama of the entire city comes into view. With our feet planted firmly on the floor, we take in the view at our own pace and study the scene below. From the vast expanse of Business Bay and the Downtown Burj Dubai district that will eventually be surrounded by the Creek, to the infamous Sheikh Zayed Road and its high-rise offices and 5-star hotels and the Arabian Gulf beyond - the view is incredible. Look even closer and several luxurious Royal palaces come into sight, each with their own stables and racetracks to parade, train and ride their beautiful Arabian horses.

"On a clear day," an Emaar representative tells us, "you can see The World project and even Iran." Today is sadly too hazy to see either one, but we can easily imagine how that might be possible.
1.35pmWe talk to Sang, who has previously managed and directed work on various projects including high rises in Hong Kong.

"This one's been the tallest I've ever done," he says chuckling to himself.

"The biggest challenge has been the day-to-day co-ordination of the project and to monitor and keep everything on track due to the high speed of the development. We have to keep the design and construction process in line and communicate with the hundreds of consultants we have all over the world.

It's a huge task but we're slightly ahead of schedule and will open at the end of next year." We quiz Sang about the value of the project and how much each property is worth. He joined Emaar in October 2004 "just after the project had sold out", he says. "The properties for sale are worth at least 30% more than when they were originally purchased," he adds.

And the building still has 17 months to go. Then again, there is no project quite like this one on the planet.

1.55pm"It's time to leave," shouts the Emaar rep. "We need more time for photos," we reply. Any excuse to stay on top of the world.

2.00pmWe've had our fun and glory; it's time to take the lift back down to reality. The lift doors slam shut together and the noise of the hoist buzzes into action for the last time. We speed downwards admiring the view.

Back on ground level Sang takes the time to patiently show us the base of the Burj where a dozen steel skeletons of each floor are being carefully assembled on the ground, lifted by crane, and then set in concrete at magnificent heights.

The Burj Dubai, rather unsurprisingly, set the world concrete height record when it reached 126 floors and 452m on June 13 this year.

I look up at where we've just come from and still can't get over the awesome size and scale of the project Dubai set itself three years ago. The reflective cladding on the 19th floor gleams.

The trip is over, until launch date December 2008, that is. History has been made today, and we were proud to be a part of it.


On top of the world: the Burj in numbers• The tip of the spire can be seen 95km away with the naked eye.

• An estimated 330,000m² of cement, 39,000t of steel rebar and 142,000m² of glass will be used in the construction of the Burj Dubai.

• 22 million man-hours will go into building the world's tallest landmark.

• The foundation slab is 80,000ft² in size, while the piling is 50m deep.

• The Burj Dubai's observatory lifts (double deck cabs) will have the world's longest travel distance from the lowest to the highest stop.

• The Burj Dubai will set the record for the world's highest lift installation.

• A condensate collection system will collect condensed water from the hot and humid air and will use it for irrigation requirements across the tower gardens. This will provide around 15 million gallons of additional water a year, equivalent to 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

• The curtain wall of the Burj Dubai will be equivalent to 17 soccer fields or 25 American football fields.

• The concrete used for the Burj Dubai is equivalent to a 1900km long pavement.

• The Burj Dubai has a computerised central service system from Germany to analyse the building's stability to withstand natural elements.

• Reflective glass on all the building's floors will provide protection from sunlight at the same time as making the building's interiors cooler.

• It will also feature the world's fastest elevator, rising and descending at 18m per second or 65 kmph. The world's current fastest elevator is in the Taipei 101 office tower in Taiwan. It travels at 16.83m per second or 60.6kmph.

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