Architect: W.S. Atkins & Partners, London
Fabric: Dyneon, Oakdale, Minn.
Fabricator: Skyspan Europe, Germany
The interior was designed by Khuan Chew, Design Principal of KCA International (London).
Reviews by architecture critics
Burj Al Arab during sunsetThe Burj Al Arab has attracted criticism as well as praise, described as “a contradiction of sorts, considering how well-designed and impressive the construction ultimately proves to be.” The contradiction here seems to be related to the hotel’s extreme opulence.
“This extraordinary investment in state-of-the-art construction technology stretches the limits of the ambitious urban imagination in an exercise that is largely due to the power of excessive wealth.” Another critic includes the city of Dubai as well: “both the hotel and the city, after all, are monuments to the triumph of money over practicality. Both elevate style over substance.” Yet another: “Emulating the quality of palatial interiors, in an expression of wealth for the mainstream, a theater of opulence is created in Burj Al Arab … The result is a baroque effect”. Sam Wollaston writing in The Guardian described the Burj as “…fabulous, hideous, and the very pinnacle of tackiness – like Vegas after a serious, no-expense-spared, sheik-over”.
In ‘Al Manakh’ there are two projects from Dubai that keep appearing, without any argument why these buildings are so important. The first one is the Burj Al Arab hotel; the second one is the Dubai Towers complex that will be discussed later in this series.
In architectural history the word ‘prefiguration’ is an important one. In the case of major inventions there are always predecessors that point in a certain direction, ‘prefigure’ them, but do not take the idea yet as far as it will do later. Tube lighting was in the early twentieth century for instance prefigured by light bulbs put in rows behind translucent glass panels. Mies van der Rohe did designs like that, without actually having tubes yet, which would take that idea into adolescence.
The prefiguration of Dubai is the Burj Al Arab. It was the first project to take the step into the water. It is still a small step, a small island. But conceptually it meant everything; it opened up The Gulf for inhabitation. And just as the delirious New York used the functionalist argument of land-value to justify its densification, so does Dubai use the functionalist argument of beach-length to justify its extension into the sea. The argument is in the end not so important, what counts is the end-result.
Another prefiguration is the metaphor of the sail. It is an iconography that has a triple virtue; contextual (the hotel is sited on an island in the water), timeless (sailing has been around forever) and pointing to leisure (which works like a duck-building for a duck-restaurant). It is brilliant. Just one step further is the idea for an island in the form of a palm, and eventually a group of islands that echo the map of the world.
In ‘Al Manakh’ we also read that the concept of the Burj Al Arab was originally not developed by the architect W.S. Atkins, but by the architect Carlos A. Ott. In an interview with Todd Reisz the architect says he made sketches for the hotel, but forgot to sign them. When his contact with the client got fired, the displacement found drawings without a name, and then turned to W.S. Atkins to develop the idea further.
“My building was identical to Burj Al Arab, but a bit taller. Main concepts – building in the water, sail motif, a restaurant with an aquarium – were my ideas”, Ott says. At about the same time Ott designed a similar looking office building in Montevideo for ANTEL Communications. In the end Ott is the phantom father to the hotel, the anonymous sperm donor so to speak.
Now we also know that that the sail-iconography is an explicit one that has been there since the conception of the building. The back, facing the shore, reminds also to a roach, as Ott also notes.
It has been suggested that the front corner in combination with the meeting room in the sky secretly form a crucifix, a †. That would be a scandal in the Muslim-country, but it merely proves too much people have read Dan Brown. The horizontal line is just too narrow and placed too low to really sustain that suggestion.
With 28 stories the Burj Al Arab is not the highest building around. It is not the size of the building that makes a difference, but its form. It’s main invention and feature is the white exoskeleton. The strong and sleek frame with its enormous circular sweep transforms the building into a distinctive object. There is no building that tops this frame in beauty. Just magnificent.
The cantilevering meeting room and hovering UFO-like helicopter platform are the accessories to this composition, eloquently and very effectively showing off the luxuriousness of the hotel. It is the only 7-star hotel on earth.
The exterior is beautiful, but no show-off. Except for the two tiny clues to the wealth inside it is all very modest and decent. The interior however is a different story. It is a finite Maximalism:
- Maximum color
- Maximum relief
- Maximum form
- Maximum difference
The bright colors and sharply cut patterns just blow you away… Who made up this orgy? Does maximalism indeed equal the end of good taste, as Willem-Jan Neutelings has suggested? It seems like it.
I have also to admit that after looking at the images for some days now, I start to like parts of it. There is a cultural framework that excludes such a use of color. This might however in the future. Color is coming back. (Mark my words!)
Special thanks to www.eikongraphia.com
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Burj Al Arab Introduction
With a long established and proven track record as a major consultant in the Gulf region, Atkins was approached by a key client in the early 90s to design and deliver a unique project – an iconic hotel that would be instantly recognised as an architectural icon. What followed was five years of design and build activity resulting in a technically challenging, aesthetic masterpiece that has thrust Dubai forward onto the world stage and, even today, stands as a measure of excellence and innovation.
To win the commission we had to prove that our concept design was going to deliver a building with an identity commensurate with the aspirations of a leading developing regional economy, guided by a ruler with vision and ambition for even greater things to come. Tough questions had to answered: What makes a building iconic? What will truly reflect not only Dubai’s heritage, but also Dubai’s forward thinking and modern ambitions? We wanted to create a building that would match the rate of buoyant expansion and stylish culture synonymous with Dubai.
The defining criteria for an international icon were deemed to be style and uniqueness of form which would made a bold statement and be instantly recognisable. This had to be tempered against the demanding specification to deliver a building that not only aesthetically, but technically could stand the test of time. Dubai’s seafaring history played an inspirational part in the design concept, but it was left to the creative talent of our architects and engineers led by principal designer Tom Wright, to devise a solution that delivered a structure matching all these requirements.
In drawing upon Dubai’s nautical past, our concept solution was based on a large sail – that of a modern high tech spinnaker of a J Class Yacht. With client approval of this innovative concept in empathy with the nation’s seafaring origins we began the design and delivery of the 321m tall structure with a dedicated multidisciplinary team based in Dubai. Imposingly set on a man made island 300m out to sea, the first challenges were to assess the impact of such a feature on the existing shoreline and to develop a solution for the construction within a confined cofferdam. We incorporated concrete armour units which present a sloping surface to the sea to absorb wave impact without throwing water onto the island.
A steelwork exoskeleton, with trusses as long as 85m provides wind bracing and defines the building’s dramatic triangular shape. The sail theme is continued in the unique geometric double skinned fabric wall which insulates the building from solar gain as well as allowing diffused natural light to the interior. Encapsulated behind this is one of the most defining elements of the building – a 182m high atrium, the tallest in the world, which sets the internal ambience of the duplex-floored interior.
Our concept and structural designs set the precedent for what was expected to be delivered within the interior of the building. In accomplishing this, the material specification for the hotel interiors is unparalleled in its quality: the same marble as that used by Michelangelo to create his sculpture of David and 8,000 square metres of 22 carat gold leaf integrated into the interior design are but a few examples. Hidden from the casual observer are some of the most sophisticated system technologies in the electromechanical designs which ensure the fastest lifts and a level of guest service facilities that remain uncontested anywhere else in the world.
Commensurate with the innovation within the building, there were also several water and lighting effects that were incorporated into the design to ensure that the Burj Al Arab’s aesthetics were as stunning as it’s architectural design. These include an animated display of water and fire which greets guests at the entrance and an internal atrium water sculpture composed of fibre optic lit water arches complimeted by a 50m high water shooter.
As of today, the Burj Al Arab still holds the record for being The Tallest All Suite Hotel in the world (Guinness Book of World Records). It has gained international media exposure throughout the world, forming a backdrop for innumerable global events and has been featured in the National Geographic TV Series ‘Megastructures’. Most importantly, because of the performance of our designers, project managers and other professionals associated with its delivery, the Atkins name is now synonymous with internationally acclaimed architecture and design, delivered in a very challenging environment to a most discerning client. It has been one of the springboards for our current reputation as a designer of excellence and has established a platform from which numerous high profile commissions have followed.