Friday Letter View from the Burj

 PERE’s Jonathan Brasse was yesterday taken on a personal tour of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Read all about it.

Waseem, a smiley Indian marketing executive from Burj Khalifa assures me that Emaar Properties, the Dubai developer behind the world’s tallest building here in the emirate, has not suffered comparative to its compatriot real estate companies. He assures me this as he takes me on a personal tour of the 828-metre concrete and glass spike opened to the public earlier this month in a grand ceremony, the photographs of which have adorned countless websites, magazines and newspapers.

Unfortunately despite the jubilation surrounding its opening, the SOM-designed office looming over the huge Dubai Mall already has ties with the highest-profile catastrophe in the Middle East region to date, namely the admission by state-owned ports and real estate conglomerate Dubai World that it would struggle to meet large parts of its $26 billion debt obligation, and the resultant $10 billion capital aid from Abu Dhabi.

Whether by gesture or command, the renaming of this tower from the Burj Dubai to that of Abu Dhabi’s preeminent Sheikh is no coincidence and the decision to do so happened last minute, as evidenced by the old name still appearing on various signs and boards in the vicinity.

Still, issues pertaining to this building are now someone else’ problem. Waseem says both the residential and commercial components of the building were pre-sold and will be handed over during February and March. He was unable to divulge the sales prices but did say the 160-storey property cost more than $1 billion to develop. Having got the financials out the way, as we slowly hovered along a conveyer belt running parallel to a visual display of Dubai’s evolution from sand to modern metropolis, we walk into a chamber at the foot of the lift. Walking among models of the tower, we digest the construction figures:

The building was built in five years by 12,000 staff working 96,043,940 man hours. Standing empty it weighs 500 tonnes, has 28,601 glass panels and apparently from the top can measure winds of up to 198 kilometers an hour. For one last awe-intended fact, the tower can be seen on ground level from 95 kilometers away. Waseem claims you can see Iran on a clear day.

Despite taking in all these facts and assertions, I couldn’t help but think of a couple of recent news stories I'd read as my ears began to pop in the tightly squeezed, ascending lift.

One: that the building has already been struck by lightening since its opening, and two: that one of these lifts, perhaps this very one, has already broken down for an hour or so, trapping those inside.

I am told that Dubai has approximately four lightening storms a year and each of them has hit the building during construction, although it is designed to withstand such extreme weather, according to real estate professionals. Despite the logic, my nerves only abate when the 57-second journey to the top (that's about 10-metres a second) is complete and I'm on the viewing deck.

The astute among you will have already worked out that 57 times 10 does not equal 828. The highest viewpoint for the public is just over half way up the tower. But that is hardly disappointing when you are up here.

The views are extensive to say the least. Looking down, you can make out the building’s spider lilly-inspired geometrical pattern and viewing the Dubai Mall and the Bellagio-style water fountain from a bird’s eye perspective is impressive too.

It’s almost enough to distract the mind from just how much economic bother the emirate is going through.

PERE is in the United Arab Emirates speaking to real estate investment professionals about current market sentiment. Read more of our findings from the trip in March issue of PERE and online at