Friday, January 8, 2010

Dubai's Shiny New Energy Waster

As you may have heard, Dubai's Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai) now holds the record as the tallest free-standing structure ever built. At an opening ceremony on January 4th, the official height of the skyscraper was announced to be 828 m (2,717 ft). To get an idea of the size, you would need to stack both of the old World Trade Center towers on top of each other to reach the same height, While I have to admit I always find enormous building projects fascinating (doesn't everyone), this particular record-breaker seems extremely foolhardy.

First off, the building requires almost as much electricity as the rest of the city to operate, a fact that certainly won't help Dubai's largest per capita carbon footprint in the world. Second, the building fills no real need. As the LA Times' Christopher Hawthorne recently detailed, most of the building remains vacant. When the construction company broke ground in 2004, Dubai was in the middle of a huge growth binge fueled with debt in an effort to boost its economy. The reason why is understandable enough because Dubai's oil reserves have been mostly depleted. Since selling sand isn't known for is huge returns, the only remaining option for Dubai was to try and boost tourism through spectacular building projects including manmade offshore islands and luxury hotels. The Burj Khalifa is a huge part of this revitalization as a center for business and luxury residences.

Though Dubai was able to attract wealthy tourists, mostly from Europe, the global recession has brought most of that to a halt. Furthermore, the collapse of the real estate market has left Dubai with far more real estate than its economy can hope to maintain. Furthermore, the city recently had to secure a $10 billion loan from its neighboring emirate, Abu Dhabi, just to pay for the loans on its building projects.

As for Burj Khalifa, most of the residences have been booked, but they were all sold in advance before the economic downturn and few people have actually moved in. Even worse, there is virtually no need for commercial office space in Dubai for the foreseeable future. As a result, most of the tower's 3.5 million square feet sit empty, sucking up energy and resources.

More than anything, this is a perfect example of the mindset we need to discard if we want to have a sustainable and productive future. Sure, tall things are awesome, and there are legitimate reasons to build them. However, Burj Khalifa seems to have been built more to stroke the egos of Dubai's ruling family and as a shiny toy they can show off to the rest of the world. And now it sits there, sucking up energy from our planet’s ever diminishing supply of hydrocarbons while serving no real purpose. Thanks Dubai.


  1. I've always looked at these efforts by different countries to have the tallest building in the world as just a "biggest dick" contest.

    BTW, welcome back to the blogosphere.

  2. Agreed, because more often than not there's not as much need for office space as the new building provides. Such a waste.

    And thanks for the welcome.