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Travel to Dubai


How Dubai was built

1 May 2018

From architectural wonders and seven-star hotels, to world record-breakers that push the boundaries of possibility,

Dubai has never shied away from feats of engineering prowess. Here we look at what it took to build some of those landmarks, and how they operate on a daily basis.

Burj Al Arab - The story of Dubai’s original superstar building

An iconic symbol of Dubai, the Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah is an architectural marvel. It is also one of the world’s most photographed superstructures. Set on its own manmade island 280 metres off Dubai’s coastline, it was designed by the architect Tom Wright to resemble the billowing sail of an Arabian dhow and, at 321 metres high, is the tallest all-suite hotel in the world.

First opened on December 1, 1999, its construction involved 3,000 companies and contractors, 250 designers, and 3,500 workmen on site at any given time. It took two years to reclaim the island and a further three to complete the building, which was constructed to reflect Dubai’s ambition to become one of the most culturally diverse and dynamic cities in the world.

Inside, approximately 1,790 square metres of 24-karat gold leaf embellishes the interior, while 10 million mosaic tiles line the two pools at The Terrace, the hotel’s luxury leisure facility. There are also more than 30 types of Statuario marble covering nearly 24,000 square metres of wall and flooring.

It takes around 1,600 members of staff, ranging from Michelin-starred chefs and skilled mixologists to florists and private butlers, to run the hotel, which features three aquariums, nine dining and entertainment venues, 202 suites, a spa and leisure facilities.

“The same level of care, design and attention that has been put into developing and maintaining the architectural marvel goes into the running of the hotel,” says Scott Murray, the hotel’s manager. “From being chauffeur driven in one of our luxurious Rolls-Royce Phantoms across the famed bridge leading to the hotel, through to the bespoke care taken at each of the 202 suites by our team of dedicated butlers; the impeccable service offered at restaurants such as Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara and Scape Restaurant & Lounge, to the beach and pool experience at The Terrace, each touchpoint that guests experience at Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah is a uniquely special one.”

3,000 Companies and contractors involved in its total build
3,500 Workmen on site at any one time
1,790 Square metres of gold leaf embellishing the interior

Burj Khalifa - How they made the world’s tallest building

If the Burj Al Arab is an architectural marvel, the Burj Khalifa is an architectural miracle. Standing at 200-plus stories, of which 160 are habitable, it is the tallest building in the world and one of the greatest feats of engineering.

Designed by Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and developed by Emaar Properties, it took 22 million man-hours to build, and during its peak construction had over 12,000 professionals and skilled workers on site every day. In total, 330,000 cubic metres of concrete, 39,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement, 103,000 square metres of glass, and 15,500 square metres of embossed stainless steel were used in its construction. The end result is a stunning vertical city at the heart of Downtown Dubai.

There’s the world’s highest observation deck and outdoor terrace (on level 148), the world’s highest swimming pool (on level 76), and At.Mosphere, the world’s highest fine dining restaurant (on level 122). At its base is the Armani Hotel Dubai, while the rest of this monument to human achievement is made up of 172,000 square metres of residential and over 27,800 square metres of office space.

Maintaining such a structure is no small task. The tower’s water system requires an average of 946,000 litres of water per day, and at peak times requires cooling equivalent to that of 10,000 tonnes of melting ice. There are also 18 specialised machines and around 36 trained workers designated to cleaning the building’s 24,000 windows. In all, it takes four months to clean the entire exterior of the building.

Interestingly, the building’s management team are helped by Dubai’s hot and humid climate, which, combined with the building’s cooling system, creates a significant amount of condensation. This water is collected and drained in a separate piping system and amounts to about 56 million litres of water per year, equal to roughly 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Meanwhile, the tower’s peak electrical demand is 36mW, equal to about 360,000 bulbs of 100 watts operating simultaneously.

22 Million man-hours to build
24,000 windows to clean
4 Months to clean them

Dubai Water Canal - How they built one of Dubai’s newest attractions

As urban transformations go, the building of Dubai Water Canal takes some beating. Where else in the world would the elevation of three existing roads – including Dubai’s main artery, Sheikh Zayed Road – be shrugged off as a mere inconvenience? Yet that’s exactly what was necessary to complete one of the city’s newest landmarks.

Running for 3.2 kilometres and built at a cost of Dhs2.7 billion, the canal is essentially an extension of Dubai Creek, linking Business Bay to the Arabian Gulf through Safa Park and Jumeirah. To achieve this the four main contractors and 70 sub-contractors had to excavate three million cubic metres of sand, use 150,000 tonnes of cement, and utilise 25,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement.

The canal was then flooded in a complex six-stage operation, allowing 7.8 million cubic metres of water into the waterway. In total, the operation was executed over a five-week period.

The canal, which is between 80 and 120 metres wide at any given location, has added 6.4 kilometres of waterfront to Dubai and includes a 12-kilometre cycle track, a three-kilometre jogging track, three pedestrian bridges, and nine marine stations. It even has its very own waterfall cascading from the bridge over Sheikh Zayed Road.

2.7 Billion dollars, the total cost
3 Million cubic metres of sand excavated to create the canal

The Dubai Fountain - The world’s largest choreographed fountain system

At the base of the Burj Khalifa is another Emaar masterpiece: The Dubai Fountain. The tallest performing fountain in the world, with 344 underwater robots and 1,137 shooters, it is a spectacular water, light and musical experience at the centre of Downtown Dubai.

Set in the 30-acre Burj Lake and designed by Californian-based WET, the fountain’s powerful water nozzles can shoot water up to 140 metres in the air, while its unique design of five circles of varying sizes and two arcs enable it to be choreographed to different music. At any given moment 83,000 litres of water will be in the air, with 25 colour projectors providing a full spectrum of colour.

Controlling the creative aspect of the shows is a dedicated team of choreographers, with each new show starting life as a computer simulation in the US before being downloaded to the fountain in Dubai for fine-tuning. The entire process can take between two and four weeks, with everything from Michael Jackson’s Thriller to the theme song to The Magnificent Seven forming the basis of a show.

The fountain itself sits atop a network of tunnels and equipment rooms, with an array of logic control, electrical switching, power and valve panels controlling the entire operation. This electrical equipment, coupled with miles of piping, comes together to create the final show, which is overseen by the main control room located on the top floor of The Dubai Mall.

“The spectacular shows on the new LED panel of Burj Khalifa and the performances of The Dubai Fountain are among the most popular tourist attractions in the city today,” says Ahmad Al Falasi, executive director of group operations at Emaar Properties. “Both involve extensive collaboration and planning, and our focus is on offering visitors a truly memorable experience.

“Every show involves hundreds of people working in coordination to ensure that every aspect is considered – right from design to execution. These performances also add to the civic pride of our nation, underlining the appeal of Dubai in offering compelling attractions that welcome the world.”

83,000 Litres of water in the air at any one time
140 Height in metres of the tallest jet of water
2-4 Weeks it can take to perfect a new show

Palm Jumeirah - The story of an archipelago like no other

One of the world’s largest manmade islands, Palm Jumeirah is constructed in the shape of a date palm and effectively doubled the coastline of Dubai when it was completed in 2006. It took 120 million cubic metres of sand and seven million tonnes of rock to create, and spans 1,400 acres. To put that in perspective, the island is four times the size of London’s Hyde Park and one-and-a-half times bigger than Central Park in New York.

The master developer tasked with transforming Palm Jumeirah from a concept into reality was Nakheel, and in doing so it has created one of the most famous and sought-after landmark destinations in the world. Now home to more than 30,000 people, it includes luxury residences, hotels, resorts, retail outlets, and recreation and leisure facilities. All of which need constant maintenance.

Significantly, the island, which hosts resorts such as Atlantis The Palm and Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, is very much a work in progress. Upcoming Nakheel developments include The Palm Tower, a 52-storey residential and hotel complex, and Palm 360, a twin-tower hotel and residential development comprising Raffles The Palm Dubai Hotel and Raffles Residences Palm360. The Palm Tower is directly connected to Nakheel Mall, which is also under construction and due for completion next year.

“Palm Jumeirah is a shining of example of the creativity, innovation and forward-thinking that Dubai is known for,” says Ali Rashid Lootah, Nakheel’s chairman. “A globally-recognised landmark and one of the most sought-after addresses in the world, Palm Jumeirah has set new standards in master planning, design and engineering. We continue to enhance the island by bringing more new and unique projects to serve its growing number of residents and visitors.”

30,000 Number of people living on Palm Jumeirah
120 Million cubic metres of sand that created it
7 Million tonnes of rock it also needed to become a reality

Expo 2020 - How they’re making the city of the future

This is a 24-hour a day job for Ahmed Al Khatib, senior vice-president of real estate and delivery at Expo 2020. He has two mobile phones, neither of which leave his side – and it’s not surprising. Al Khatib is responsible for the overall construction of the site, which, in 30 months’ time, will host the first World Expo to ever be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Construction at the 4.38 square kilometre site in Dubai South, not far from Al Maktoum International Airport, is ramping up and will peak by the end of the year, with 35,000 construction workers on site. To date, more than 14.5 million work hours have been completed, with 6,100 cubic metres of concrete being laid per week and 85 kilometres of pipe already laid for the site’s infrastructure works. The path of the Dubai Metro Route 2020 link is also now clearly visible.

Expo 2020’s three petal-shaped themed districts are also beginning to take shape. These districts will be integral to the site and will converge at its centrepiece – the 150-metre-wide, 69-metre-tall domed Al Wasl Plaza. There will also be separate themed pavilions, including the Santiago Calatrava-designed UAE pavilion, modelled on the wings of a falcon, and Grimshaw Architects’ Sustainability pavilion. The latter will be able to capture energy from the sun and fresh water from humid air.

“We are on track to ensure all shell and core construction is completed by October 2019, a full year ahead of the Expo doors opening,” says Al Khatib. “Successfully delivering a masterplan of this magnitude is a complex task, but Expo 2020 has assembled some of the world’s best design, construction and urban planning experts to ensure that the site is ready to welcome the world on October 20, 2020.”

To date, Expo 2020 has awarded 3,039 contracts – both construction and non-construction – with small and medium-sized enterprises continuing to represent a priority, winning 1,717 of those awarded. With 25 million visitors forecast to attend the six-month event, the UAE expects to receive an estimated economic boost of $34.5 billion.

14.5 Million work hours completed to date
35,000 Construction workers on site
34.5 Billion dollars, the estimated economic boost to the UAE from Expo 2020

Motiongate Dubai - The inside story of the ultimate theme park

For anyone unaccustomed to theme parks, especially integrated ones, the sheer enormity of Dubai Parks and Resorts is something to behold. Built on 2.85 million square metres of land at a cost of US$3.5 billion, it features more than 100 rides and attractions, with the entire destination connected by Riverland Dubai, a multi-themed dining and retail district.

Within Dubai Parks and Resorts, the Hollywood-inspired Motiongate Dubai is the flagship. With 27 key rides and attractions inspired by 13 of Hollywood’s most memorable live action and animated films (21 of which are indoors). It’s a theme park lover’s dream. There’s Dragon Gliders, a multimedia suspended roller coaster within DreamWorks; Madagascar Mad Pursuit, a roller coaster that propels visitors forward at up to 85km/h upon launch; and Zombieland Blast-off, a 58-metre drop and shot tower identical to that in the movie.

Located just off Sheikh Zayed Road, midway between Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport, the park as a whole recorded 851,000 visits during the first quarter of 2018, an increase of 45 per cent on the first quarter of 2017 and an increase of 55,000 compared with the last quarter of 2017. As such, an army of staff is required to run the destination which, as part of its full-service offering, is enhanced with smart technology, smart queuing and shaded walkways.

Facts 3.5 Billion dollars it cost to build Motiongate Dubai
21 Number of indoor rides, from the 27 in total
58 Metres, the drop from the Zombieland Blast-off ride

Ain Dubai - The latest addition to Dubai’s iconic skyline

If you’ve been a regular visitor to Jumeirah Beach Residence over the course of the past year, you’ll have watched with interest as a new edition to Dubai’s skyline slowly but surely takes shape. The Ain Dubai observation wheel will be the largest of its kind in the world when it’s completed later this year. In fact, it already stands at a world-beating height of over 210 metres, with the eight sections of the wheel’s rim now in place.

Forming the centrepiece of the new Bluewaters Island development by Meraas, the final structure will include around 9,000 tonnes of steel, almost 25 per cent more than the amount used to construct the Eiffel Tower in Paris. With 48 passenger capsules manufactured in Switzerland, some of which will be ‘fine-dining’ pods that can seat up to 12 guests, and 360-degree views of the city, Ain Dubai is sure to be an instant hit.

When complete, the manmade island will include distinctive retail, residential, hospitality and entertainment zones and will be connected to the shore by a multimode transport system. There will be 10 residential towers, featuring 698 apartments and 17 townhouses, and a 265-metre pedestrian bridge that will link the island with The Beach at JBR. There will also be close to 200 retail and dining concepts.

9,000 Tonnes of steel required to build the wheel
698 Residential apartments in 10 towers
12 Guests able to eat at the fine dining pod

Ain Dubai photo credit: Dubai Media Office

Words by: Iain Akerman
Photos: Getty Images