The City of Gold
'Dubai is not always the wonderland that it appears to be...'
Jeremy Steed | 23 January 2016

Dubai is an incredible place and one of the most amazing things about it is its buildings. Just look at the Burj Khalifa; it stands at 829.8m high (just over half a mile upwards) which currently makes it the tallest building in the world. This is one of Dubai’s 18 World Records, including my personal favourite: the world’s 2nd highest swimming pool, although many may argue that this title is underselling the building.

The Burj Khalifa is a phenomenal piece of design, with the architecture being based on a tropical flower. Despite the location, the tower is truly a global collaboration. An American firm designed the architecture, 300 Chinese experts designed the glass (with individually cut panels, which were designed to withstand the 50 degree Dubai heat), an Australian company has taken on the responsibility of cleaning the 120 000 m2 of glass, and a South Korean company actually built it.

The Burj is really the symbol of Dubai’s economic power, however I also think it is a microcosm of Dubai itself. The people that own it are Emirati (natives to the United Arab Emirates), the people that work there are expats of all nationalities, and the building itself is a big tourist attraction. Dubai is a multicultural melting-pot where East meets West. This is demonstrated best at the beach, where the supposedly Islamic law takes a dive towards the super Western. Other than the spectacular and individual views from the beach, you might as well be in Benidorm.

There is a noticeable race divide when it comes to occupation, which comes wholly from the immigration rules that require all inhabitants to have a job, except for the Emiratis. Labour, hospitality and private sector jobs are taken by people from the Indian subcontinent and Iran. Emiratis (only 15% of the population) tend to take up public sector jobs. It is a strange sensation to visit Dubai and only see 20 Emiratis yet meet hundreds of Indian and Sri Lankan people.

Despite the seemingly perfect Burj, all things come at a price. Dubai is not always the wonderland that it appears to be. The builders of the tower had minimal pay ($175 a month) and many had their passports withheld by their employers so they could not leave before construction was finished. This is just an example of the power that employers have over their staff, including whether they can drink, drive or even live in the country. There were also issues with accommodation and working conditions, not to mention the 50 degree heat, which allegedly led to high rates of death and illness. Maybe Dubai has more problems than its shiny exterior suggests.

Building something half a mile into the sky does not happen easily overnight. When the construction started in 2004, the builders did not have the technology to complete the construction, so it really was all up in the air as to whether it would even work (no pun intended) - a bit risky for a $1.5 billion project. So many metal bars were used in the reinforced concrete that, if all of them were laid end to end, it would reach a quarter of the way round the world. The building was made by pumping concrete at high pressure up the tower and setting it floor by floor, managing to pump it to the 156th floor, 606m into the air. The concrete itself, although apparently set, will not solidify to its full strength for another few years.

Dubai is not the only place with buildings that can loom above you. The “City of Gold” has some competition, as next door neighbour Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia has spent $1.2 billion to try and invest his wealth by building the Kingdom Tower - standing at 1000m high. Although this may seem like a large investment, Dubai is constantly growing. Needless to say, the prince will not be on top for long.

Image used under creative commons licence.

James Routledge 2016