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Thu 19 Jul 2007 12:00 AM

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Dubai: a city on a high

The Burj Dubai represents much more than being the tallest building in the world. It is a serious statement of intent.

The Burj Dubai will be more than the tallest building in the world. It is a statement of how serious Dubai is of becoming a world city and global business and financial hub.

A recent article in Time Out New York attempted to ridicule Dubai for its desire to build the world's tallest building. A young city in the grips of an adolescent fever to prove itself seemed to be the gist of its story.

"We no longer have to prove our mettle by bragging about the length of our edifices," Andrew Dolkart, a professor of historic preservation at the Columbia School of Architecture, told the magazine.

While that may make New Yorkers feel better about themselves, from this side of the world that just seems a rather obvious and ungracious tack to discredit what the "Big" Apple no longer has. After a century of growth New York has finally reached middle age, and it just can't get excited about its edifices any more. Well, good for it.

Dubai can however, and is - and why shouldn't it? The emirate is unashamedly young - and yet has achieved in 50 years what European and American cities took centuries to do. Dubai knows it is on the way up. And it wants to celebrate that.

There is also substance in the style. The Burj Dubai is not the tallest for the tallest sake. The emirate has learned that symbols matter. A lot. The Burj Al Arab, built in 1999, gave the emirate a face to the world, an image that people think of when anyone mentions Dubai. Instead of desert and sand dunes, people picture the world's only "seven star" hotel that looks like a sail and has a helipad that Tiger Woods teed off from. The building has drawn in millions of visitors - even if only to gawp at the building in the ocean from afar.

The Burj Dubai will shift perceptions again. It will have, and is already having, a real impact on the way people view Dubai and their perception of what the emirate stands for.

While once cities around the world contributed to Dubai's expertise, today Dubai is showing the world how to build real estate in people's minds. Think tourism? Think Dubai. Think Finance? Think Dubai? Think logistics? Think Dubai...

The Burj Al Arab ingrained in people's minds the image of Dubai as a luxury tourist destination. Located in the heart of ‘Downtown Burj Dubai' and a stone's throw away from Business Bay and Sheikh Zayed Road, the emirate will be hoping the Burj will do the same for its business credentials.

While money from declining oil revenues has undoubtedly been vital for Dubai's success so far, the magic ingredient has been image. Build it and they will come. Dubai has, is, and they haven't stopped.

Doing all of this will have cost the city over $20 billion. And at the end of it the Burj Dubai may well not win the award for the most beautiful building in the world; questions will rightfully be asked about the carbon footprint of tall buildings; for some its sky-hire spire may even be considered pointless. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that the Burj Dubai will have achieved its true purpose.

It will have moved this city in the desert one giant step closer towards that most exclusive area of prime real estate: the front of everyone's mind.

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