Living the ‘High Life’ in Dubai

By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

The torch has been passed: The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (2,717 feet), opened yesterday in the city of Dubai, passing the Taipei 101 (1,670 feet) by a wide margin. (Note: Until recently, the tower was known as the Burj Dubai—more on that in a few paragraphs.) The tower will be a mixed-use building, with condos, hotel rooms, retail shops, and offices, and the centerpiece of a new complex in the heart of this most well-known Middle Eastern metropolis.

Now, any time the world’s-tallest-building record is broken, it’s significant. But this is extra significant because the preceding record was absolutely shattered. It’s something like Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard hitting 100 home runs in a single baseball season, or someone beating Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash by four seconds.

In architectural terms, the only way to compare other buildings to this new structure is by stacking them on top of each other. For example, imagine if you could pick up the Empire State Building and put it on the roof of the Sears Tower. That would only be about a hundred feet taller than the the Burj Khalifa.

Apart from its remarkable height, the other noteworthy thing about the Burj Khalifa is that it’s served as a barometer of larger trends in real estate and economics. Although it didn’t officially open until now, I think the tower is fitting culmination to the decade we just lived through.

Construction started on the building back in 2004, when a real estate boom was driving a large part of Dubai’s (and much of the world’s) growing wealth. It neared completion just as Dubai’s (and much of the world’s) economy started to tank, and was renamed at practically the last minute as a gesture to the political head of oil-rich rival city Abu Dhabi, which gave the financially troubled metropolis cash infusions—or bailouts, if you like—totaling more than $20 billion. By the time the building actually opened, rents had fallen by about 50 percent from their peak prices in 2008. Moreover, vacancies in office space will probably exceed 25 percent for the foreseeable future.

Still, its problems aside, who wouldn’t want to see this thing in person?

Update: My colleague Wendy Cole talks about her experiences on a press trip to Dubai in this post. Agent Genius’s take is here.

Brian Summerfield

Brian Summerfield is Manager of Business Development and Outreach for NAR Commercial and Global Services. He can be reached at

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