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How the world's tallest skyscraper was built



Three times the height of the Eiffel Tower and nearly twice as tall as the Empire State Building, the Burj Khalifa towers above the world at an astonishing 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) in height.

On the 1st October 2009 the exterior of this gigantic structure was completed, after five years of construction. Eleven years on, it has still to be topped as the world’s tallest building.

Building the Burj Khalifa

Dubai’s transformation to an upscale megacity was sudden, fueled primarily by the oil and gas industry. Rapid expansion and ambitious buildingworks were common in the area in the early 2000s, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashin Al Maktoum determined to add bigger and better projects to put Dubai on the map. 

The government also wanted to transition away from a predominately oil and gas-based economy to one that catered to tourism. A major development was planned that would include 30,000 homes, nine major hotels, 19 residential skyscrapers, a super-sized shopping centre and the world’s tallest building, with a 30-acre artificial lake at its base. 

Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) designed the building using a “bundled tube” design that had previously been used in Chicago’s Willis Tower, which allowed construction to use half the steel a building of that size would be expected to use. The design included 27 setbacks in a spiral pattern, aligned to minimise vibration wind loading from eddy currents and vortices. 

Samsung C&T were the primary contractor for the construction, which began in January 2004. At its peak, 12,000 workers were on site every day. In total the construction took 22 million man hours and used up 110,000 tonnes of concrete and 55,000 tonnes of steel rebar. 

The building used the equivalent amount of aluminium as five A380 aircraft. And the amount of concrete used is said to be equal to the weight of 100,000 elephants. Disassembled and laid end to end, the pieces of the tower would stretch a quarter of the way around the world.

In just five years, the building was completed. 

  • January 2004: Excavation commences.
  • February 2004: Piling starts.
  • 21 September 2004: Emaar contractors begin construction.
  • March 2005: Structure of Burj Khalifa starts rising.
  • June 2006: Level 50 is reached.
  • February 2007: Surpasses the Sears Tower as the building with the most floors.
  • 13 May 2007: Sets record for vertical concrete pumping on any building at 452 m (1,483 ft), surpassing the 449.2 m (1,474 ft) to which concrete was pumped during the construction of Taipei 101, while Burj Khalifa reached the 130th floor.
  • 21 July 2007: Surpasses Taipei 101, whose height of 509.2 m (1,671 ft) made it the world's tallest building, and level 141 reached.
  • 12 August 2007: Surpasses the Sears Tower antenna, which stands 527 m (1,729 ft).
  • 12 September 2007: At 555.3 m (1,822 ft), becomes the world's tallest freestanding structure, surpassing the CN Tower in Toronto, and level 150 reached.
  • 7 April 2008: At 629 m (2,064 ft), surpasses the KVLY-TV Mast to become the tallest man-made structure, level 160 reached.
  • 17 June 2008: Emaar announces that Burj Khalifa's height is over 636 m (2,087 ft) and that its final height will not be given until it is completed in September 2009.
  • 1 September 2008: Height tops 688 m (2,257 ft), making it the tallest man-made structure ever built, surpassing the previous record-holder, the Warsaw Radio Mast in Konstantynów, Poland.
  • 17 January 2009: Topped out at 829.8 m (2,722 ft).
  • 1 October 2009: Emaar announces that the exterior of the building is completed.
  • 4 January 2010: Burj Khalifa's official launch ceremony is held and Burj Khalifa is opened. Burj Dubai renamed Burj Khalifa in honour of the President of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.
  • 10 March 2010: Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat certifies Burj Khalifa as world's tallest building.

The Burj Khalifa is so tall that its tip can be seen from up to 95km away. It has set multiple world records, including “tallest freestanding structure in the world”, “highest number of stories in the world”, “highest occupied floor in the world, “highest outdoor observation deck in the world”, “elevator with the longest travel distance in the world”. 

Despite all this, ascending to the observation deck on the 124th floor takes less than a minute, in a lift traveling at 10 metres per second. 

The Burj Khalifa certainly did its job of making Dubai known as an ultramodern and ambitious city. It’s scale outdoes any other structure built and is a popular attraction for visitors as well as holding residential apartments, office space, a hotel and multiple restaurants. 

It is one of the most recognisable and most visually impressive engineering projects ever constructed.

50 Years of Engineering

To celebrate Fircroft’s 50th anniversary, we’ve been highlighting a major engineering feat from each year beginning with 1970 and running through to 2020. Read last week’s look at the 2008 completion of the Large Hadron Collider.

Find out how you can secure your next job on a major global infrastructure and construction project. Register your CV with NES Fircroft today.

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How the world's tallest skyscraper was built - Time to read 5 min
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