Burj Al Arab Tower of the Arabs

General Information about Burj Al Arab

Burj Al Arab Tower of the Arabs
architect Tom Wills-Wright (WS Atkins)
The interior was designed by Khuan Chew, Design Principal of KCA International (London).
location PO Box 74147 Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
date 1994-1999
style Postmodern
construction 321 m The Burj Al Arab is the world’s tallest hotel. 5 stars*  No. of rooms 202
Antenna/Spire 321 m (1,053 ft) Roof 210 m (689 ft) 
Top floor 200 m (656 ft) Floor count 60 
Floor area 111,500 m² (1,2000,000 sq ft) 
Elevator count 18
type Hotel

The world’s tallest atrium

The disk near the top of the tower is a helicopter landing pad.

helicopter landing padThe base of the atrium with water fountain


One of the hotel suites



Burjalarab Sunset

The exterior

The interior

The Burj Al Arab (Arabic: برج العرب, “Tower of the Arabs”) is a luxury hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates managed by the Jumeirah Group and built by Said Khalil. It was designed by Tom Wright of WS Atkins PLC. At 321 metres (1,053 ft), it is the tallest building used exclusively as a hotel.[2] However, the Rose Tower, also in Dubai, which has already topped Burj Al Arab’s height, will take away this title upon its opening in April 2008. The Burj Al Arab stands on an artificial island 280 metres (919 ft) out from Jumeirah beach, and is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. It is an iconic structure, designed to symbolize Dubai’s urban transformation and to mimic the billowing sail of a boat.


Construction of Burj Al Arab began in 1994. It was built to resemble the sail of a dhow, a type of Arabian vessel. Two “wings” spread in a V to form a vast “mast”, while the space between them is enclosed in a massive atrium. Architect Tom Wright said “The client wanted a building that would become an iconic or symbolic statement for Dubai; this is very similar to Sydney with its Opera House, or Paris with the Eiffel Tower. It needed to be a building that would become synonymous with the name of the country.”

The architect and engineering consultant for the project was Atkins, the UK’s largest multidisciplinary consultancy. The hotel was built by South African construction contractor Murray & Roberts.The hotel cost $650 million to build.


Several features of the hotel required complex engineering feats to achieve. The hotel rests on an artificial island constructed 280 meters offshore. To secure a foundation, the builders drove 230 40-meter long concrete piles into the sand. The foundation is held in place not by bedrock, but by the friction of the sand and silt along the length of the piles.[5]

Engineers created a surface layer of large rocks, which is circled with a concrete honey-comb pattern, which serves to protect the foundation from erosion. It took three years to reclaim the land from the sea, but less than three years to construct the building itself. The building contains over 70,000 cubic meters of concrete and 9,000 tons of steel.[5]

Inside the building, the atrium is 180 meters (590 ft) tall. During the construction phase, to lower the interior temperature, the building was cooled by half-degree increments over a period of three to six months. This was to prevent large amounts of “condensation or in fact even a rain cloud from forming in the hotel during the period of construction.” This task was accomplished by several cold air nozzles, which point down from the top of the ceiling, and blast a 1 meter cold air pocket down the inside of the sail. This creates a buffer zone, which controls the interior temperature without massive energy costs.[citations needed]

Burj Al Arab characterizes itself as the world’s only “7-star” property, a designation considered by travel professionals to be hyperbole. All major travel guides and hotel rating systems have a 5-star maximum, which some hotels attempt to out-do by ascribing themselves “6-star” status. Yet according to the Burj Al Arab’s official site, the hotel is a “5-star deluxe hotel”. It is the world’s tallest structure with a membrane façade and the world’s tallest hotel (not including buildings with mixed use) and was the first 5-star hotel to surpass 1,000 ft (305 m) in height. Although it is characterized as the world’s only 7-Star Hotel, several “7 Star” hotels are under construction. These include the Flower of the East under construction in Kish, Iran, The Centaurus Complex under construction in Islamabad, Pakistan and a complex planned for Metro Manila in the Philippines.

 Exterior. The Burj Al Arab artificial island

The building design features a steel exoskeleton wrapped around a reinforced concrete tower. Notably the building is shaped like the sail of a dhow, with two “wings” spread in a V to form a vast “mast”. The space between the wings is enclosed by a Teflon-coated fibreglass sail, curving across the front of the building and creating an atrium inside. The sail is made of a material called Dyneon, spanning over 161,000 square feet (15,000 m²), consists of two layers, and is divided into twelve panels and installed vertically. The fabric is coated with DuPont Teflon to protect it from harsh desert heat, wind, and dirt; as a result, “the fabricators estimate that it will hold up for up to 50 years.”[9]

During the day, the white fabric allows a soft, milky light inside the hotel, whereas a clear glass front would produce blinding amounts of glare and a constantly increasing temperature. At night, both inside and outside, the fabric is lit by color-changing lights. During the period of mourning following the death of Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum in January 2006, the light show and some water features were turned off.

Near the top of the building is a suspended helipad supported by a cantilever. The helipad has featured some of the hotel’s notable publicity events. Irish singer Ronan Keating shot his music video Iris on the helipad. In March 2004, professional golfer Tiger Woods hit several golf balls from the helipad into the Persian Gulf, while in February 2005, professional tennis players Roger Federer and Andre Agassi played an unranked game on the helipad, which was temporarily converted into a grass tennis court, at a height of 211 meters. The helipad has no borders or fences on the edges and if a player hit a winner the tennis balls would plunge down to the ground.[10][11]


The interior was designed by Khuan Chew, Design Principal of KCA International. Other projects by Khuan Chew include the Sultan of Brunei’s Palace, Dubai International Airport, Jumeirah Beach Resort Development, Madinat Resort and much more.

The Burj Al Arab features the tallest atrium lobby in the world, at 180 meters (590 ft). The atrium is formed between the building’s V-shaped span. The atrium dominates the interior of the hotel, and takes up over one-third of interior space. It can accommodate the Dubai World Trade Center building, which, at 38 stories, was the tallest building in Dubai from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s.

While the exterior of the Burj Al Arab is expressed in terms of ultra-modern sculptural design, the interior guest space is a compilation of lavish and luxurious architectural styles from both the east and the west. The hotel boasts 8,000 square meters of 22-carat gold leaf and 24,000 square meters of 30 different types of marble.

In the mezzanine lobby, a fountain creates a “three-dimensional Islamic star pattern.”[12] Pointed arches throughout, found in one of the hotel’s three restaurants, corridors between guest rooms, and at the top of the atrium recall a classic Arabian architectural design form.

Rooms and prices

Despite its size, the Burj Al Arab holds only 28 double-story floors which accommodate 202 bedroom suites. The smallest suite occupies an area of 169 square meters (1,819 square ft), the largest covers 780 square meters (8,396 square ft). It is one of the most expensive hotels in the world. The cost of staying in a suite begins at $1,000 per night and increases to over $15,000 per night; the Royal Suite is the most expensive, at $28,000 per night

Suites feature design details that juxtapose east and west. White Tuscan columns and a spiral staircase covered in marble with a wrought-iron gold leaf railing show influence from classicism and art nouveau. Spa-like bathrooms are accented by mosaic tile patterns on the floors and walls, with Arabian-influenced geometries, which are also found elsewhere in the building.


One of its restaurants, Al Muntaha (Arabic meaning “Highest” or “Ultimate”), is located 200 meters above the Persian Gulf, offering a view of Dubai. It is supported by a full cantilever that extends 27 meters from either side of the mast, and is accessed by a panoramic elevator.

Another restaurant, the Al Mahara (Arabic “The Oyster”), which is accessed via a simulated submarine voyage, features a large seawater aquarium, holding roughly 35,000 cubic feet (over one million liters) of water. The tank, made of acrylic glass in order to reduce the magnification effect, is about 18 cm (7.5 inches) thick. The restaurant was also voted among the top ten best restaurants of the world by Condé Nast Traveler. They have recently hired acclaimed chef Kevin McLaughlin.

Reviews by architecture critics

Burj Al Arab during sunsetThe Burj Al Arab has attracted criticism as well as praise, described as “a contradiction of sorts, considering how well-designed and impressive the construction ultimately proves to be.”[13] The contradiction here seems to be related to the hotel’s extreme opulence. “This extraordinary investment in state-of-the-art construction technology stretches the limits of the ambitious urban imagination in an exercise that is largely due to the power of excessive wealth.” Another critic includes the city of Dubai as well: “both the hotel and the city, after all, are monuments to the triumph of money over practicality. Both elevate style over substance.”[13] Yet another: “Emulating the quality of palatial interiors, in an expression of wealth for the mainstream, a theater of opulence is created in Burj Al Arab … The result is a baroque effect”.[13] Sam Wollaston writing in The Guardian described the Burj as “…fabulous, hideous, and the very pinnacle of tackiness – like Vegas after a serious, no-expense-spared, sheik-over”. 


In ‘Al Manakh’ there are two projects from Dubai that keep appearing, without any argument why these buildings are so important. The first one is the Burj Al Arab hotel; the second one is the Dubai Towers complex that will be discussed later in this series.

In architectural history the word ‘prefiguration’ is an important one. In the case of major inventions there are always predecessors that point in a certain direction, ‘prefigure’ them, but do not take the idea yet as far as it will do later. Tube lighting was in the early twentieth century for instance prefigured by light bulbs put in rows behind translucent glass panels. Mies van der Rohe did designs like that, without actually having tubes yet, which would take that idea into adolescence.

The prefiguration of Dubai is the Burj Al Arab. It was the first project to take the step into the water. It is still a small step, a small island. But conceptually it meant everything; it opened up The Gulf for inhabitation. And just as the delirious New York used the functionalist argument of land-value to justify its densification, so does Dubai use the functionalist argument of beach-length to justify its extension into the sea. The argument is in the end not so important, what counts is the end-result.

Another prefiguration is the metaphor of the sail. It is an iconography that has a triple virtue; contextual (the hotel is sited on an island in the water), timeless (sailing has been around forever) and pointing to leisure (which works like a duck-building for a duck-restaurant). It is brilliant. Just one step further is the idea for an island in the form of a palm, and eventually a group of islands that echo the map of the world.

In ‘Al Manakh’ we also read that the concept of the Burj Al Arab was originally not developed by the architect W.S. Atkins, but by the architect Carlos A. Ott. In an interview with Todd Reisz the architect says he made sketches for the hotel, but forgot to sign them. When his contact with the client got fired, the displacement found drawings without a name, and then turned to W.S. Atkins to develop the idea further.

“My building was identical to Burj Al Arab, but a bit taller. Main concepts – building in the water, sail motif, a restaurant with an aquarium – were my ideas”, Ott says. At about the same time Ott designed a similar looking office building in Montevideo for ANTEL Communications. In the end Ott is the phantom father to the hotel, the anonymous sperm donor so to speak.

Now we also know that that the sail-iconography is an explicit one that has been there since the conception of the building. The back, facing the shore, reminds also to a roach, as Ott also notes.

It has been suggested that the front corner in combination with the meeting room in the sky secretly form a crucifix, a †. That would be a scandal in the Muslim-country, but it merely proves too much people have read Dan Brown. The horizontal line is just too narrow and placed too low to really sustain that suggestion.

With 28 stories the Burj Al Arab is not the highest building around. It is not the size of the building that makes a difference, but its form. It’s main invention and feature is the white exoskeleton. The strong and sleek frame with its enormous circular sweep transforms the building into a distinctive object. There is no building that tops this frame in beauty. Just magnificent.

The cantilevering meeting room and hovering UFO-like helicopter platform are the accessories to this composition, eloquently and very effectively showing off the luxuriousness of the hotel. It is the only 7-star hotel on earth.

The exterior is beautiful, but no show-off. Except for the two tiny clues to the wealth inside it is all very modest and decent. The interior however is a different story. It is a finite Maximalism:

– Maximum color
– Maximum relief
– Maximum form
– Maximum difference

The bright colors and sharply cut patterns just blow you away… Who made up this orgy? Does maximalism indeed equal the end of good taste, as Willem-Jan Neutelings has suggested? It seems like it.

I have also to admit that after looking at the images for some days now, I start to like parts of it. There is a cultural framework that excludes such a use of color. This might however in the future. Color is coming back. (Mark my words!)

Dubai’s iconic building is a construction of superlatives. The world’s tallest hotel (321 meters) is also popularly described as the world’s only 7-Star hotel – although its formal rating is 5 Star Deluxe, the highest the international rating system offers.

Built on its own artificial island, the hotel can be reached by causeway (in one of its courtesy white Rolls Royces) or by helicopter, straight to its heliport cantilevered out from its top floor. (The heliport has also served as a grass tennis court for Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, and a golf green for Tiger Woods.)

Also extending from the top floor is the Skyview Bar, with sunset views over the Gulf, including the artificial Palm Jumeirah island and The World archipelago.

Inside, the superlatives mostly translate into extreme gaudiness, with gold leaf applied more for quantity than design. There is little subtlety in the decor of the communal entrance areas, with the exception of the dramatic larger-than-life aquaria lining the escalators (top-right picture).

The front (shore-facing) facade is constructed of two tiers of huge, steel ‘X’ trusses. Below these, full-width windows provide panoramic views from two levels of entrance lobby, unencumbered by structural support.

Above these first two levels, the facade outside of the trusses is made up of translucent white fabric stretched around the structural frame – the sail of the dhow that the building’s shape is inspired by. During the day, this white wall glows to illuminate the full-height atrium (at 180 meters, the world’s tallest). At night, a complex arrangement of changing projected lighting makes Burj Al Arab a changing beacon seen from outside, while providing a dramatic illuminated show seen from the atrium within.

On the opposite side of the atrium, the floors are organized around corridor ‘galleries’ that open onto the atrium space.

How to visit

As its web site describes it, “Burj Al Arab is located in the Jumeirah Beach area of Dubai, 15 km. from the main city centre and 25 km. from Dubai International Airport. It is well served by taxis and has its own fleet of 10 chauffeur driven Rolls-Royces. It stands proudly on a man-made island some 280m. offshore and is linked to the mainland by a slender, gently curving causeway.”

To cross the causeway, however, you need a reservation at the hotel. Casual visitors are not admitted, and reservations – even for a meal – require almost as much advance notice as they do cash.

Even if you don’t make it across the causeway, there are great views of the building from the shoreline, including the neighboring Jumeirah Beach hotel and Madinat Jumeirah, which are both also luxury hotels but physically more accessible.

Burj Al Arab’s web site is at www.burj-al-arab.com.


  1. a b Guest Service Burj Al Arab official site.
  2. ^ “World’s Tallest Hotels”, Emporis, 2006-06-01. Retrieved on 2006-06-21. 
  3. ^ “Murray & Roberts”, Murray & Roberts, 2006-06-21. Retrieved on 2006-06-21. 
  4. ^ “Burj Al Arab”, Forbes Traveler, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-01-24. 
  5. a b “Burj Al Arab”, EgyptEng.com engineering directory, 2000. Retrieved on 2007-01-24. 
  6. ^ A mega tourism project to crown Kish by 2010. Flower of the East Project (2006-01-18). Retrieved on 2007-09-12.
  7. ^ About us. The Centaurus project. Retrieved on 2007-10-12.
  8. ^ “AHN (Southeast Asia’s First Seven Star Hotel to Rise in the Philippines)”, AHN, 2007-10-09. Retrieved on 2007-10-09. 
  9. ^ “Designing with Structural Fabrics”, Architectural Record, 2006-10-01. Retrieved on 2007-01-24. 
  10. ^ “Tennis on the Burj”, Gargles, 2006-09-29. Retrieved on 2007-01-24. 
  11. ^ “World’s Top Tennis Stars at Burj Al Arab”, Burj Al Arab online. Retrieved on 2007-01-24. 
  12. a b Damluji, Salma Samar, The Architecture of the U.A.E.. Reading, UK: 2006.
  13. a b c [The Architecture of the U.A.E..]
  14. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk /tv_and_radio/story/0,,2122525,00.html
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