Architects Gordon Gill and Adrian Smith on Building the World's Tallest Towers

The architects on building the world’s tallest towers
Photograph by Solent News/Splash News/Corbis

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is a building of superlatives. At 828 meters (2,717 feet), it’s the tallest in the world, 227 meters taller than No. 2, the Makkah Clock Royal Tower in Mecca. More than double the height of the Empire State Building, the 163-story building took six years, $1.5 billion, 110,000 tons of concrete, and 22 million man-hours to build. But the most interesting thing about it isn’t any of these incredible statistics but the way it looks: Unlike most supertall buildings, the Burj is nice to look at. It’s not a workmanlike stack of boxes, like the 442-meter Willis (né Sears) Tower in Chicago, or a postmodern heritage trinket like the Makkah Clock Tower, which resembles a Big Ben souvenir someone might buy at Heathrow. The Burj Khalifa, a bundle of cylinders that aren’t uniform yet are formally organized, rises in a graceful spire. The New Yorker’s architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, wrote in 2010, when it opened, that “the profile of the Burj has a magnetism that is lacking in almost every other supertall building of our time.”

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