Friday, November 10, 2006

The World's Tallest Hotel - The Burj Al Arab

Any one who has heard of Dubai should know about the Burj Al Arab. The hotel has become as much a point of reference in Dubai as the Eiffel Tower is in Paris - A hotel that has already become an international landmark.

Burj Al Arab is situated 15 Kms south of Dubai and is part of the Jumeirah International Group. It was designed by Tom Wright of WS Atkins PLC. At 321 m (1053 feet), it is the tallest building in the world used exclusively as a hotel. It stands in the sea on an artificial island 280 m (919 feet) away from the beach in the Persian Gulf, connected to the mainland only by a private curving bridge.

History and description:

Construction of the hotel began in 1994, and its doors were opened to guests on December 1, 1999. It was built to resemble the sail of a dhow, a type of Arabian vessel. Near the top is a helipad, and extending from the other side of the hotel, over the ocean, is a restaurant called Al Muntaha (Arabic meaning Highest or Ultimate) supported by cantilever. A remarkable element of its architecture is the outer beachward wall of the atrium, which is made of a woven, Teflon-coated fiberglass cloth. The interior lobby is plated with gold leaf.

The Burj al-Arab does not have ordinary rooms; rather it is divided into 202 duplex suites. The smallest suite occupies an area of 169 square metres (1,819 square feet), and the largest one covers 780 square metres (8,396 square feet). It is one of the most expensive hotels in the world to stay in. The cost of staying in a suite begins at $1,000 per night and increases to over $15,000 per night; the Royal Suite is the most expensive, at $28,000 per night. The total cost to build and furnish the hotel has never been released.

The Burj al-Arab features the tallest atrium lobby in the world (180 metres, or 590 feet). The atrium can accommodate the Dubai World Trade Center building, which, at 38 stories, was the tallest building in Dubai from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s.

The interior design was done by Khuan Chew, Design Principal of KCA International. Other projects by Khuan Chew include, the Sultan of Brunei's Palace, Dubai International Airport, Jumeriah Beach Resort Development, Madinat Resort and much more.
The hotel's self-characterization as a "7-star" property is considered by travel professionals to be hyperbole, and an attempt to out-do a number of other hotels which claim "6-star" status. All major travel guides and hotel rating systems, however, have a 5-star maximum. According to the hotel's official site, the Burj al Arab is a "5-star deluxe hotel".

One of its restaurants, the Al Muntaha (meaning "highest", or "ultimate"), is located 200 metres above the Persian Gulf, offering a view of Dubai. It is accessed by a panoramic elevator.

Another restaurant, the Al Mahara (Arabic "The Oyster"), which is accessed via a simulated submarine voyage, features a large seawater aquarium, holding roughly 35,000 cubic feet (over one million liters) of water. The tank, made of plexiglass in order to reduce the magnification effect, is about 18 cm (7.5 inches) thick. The restaurant was also voted among the top ten best restaurants of the world by Condé Nast Traveler.

The building's external lighting scheme can vary from white to multicolored, changing every 30 minutes. Occasionally there is a light show, where colors interchange rapidly. During the period of mourning following the death of Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum in January 2006, the light show and some water features were turned off.

The architect and engineer for the project was Atkins, the UK based multidisciplinary consultancy. The hotel was built by South African construction company Murray & Roberts. It took three years to reclaim the land from the sea, and less than three years to construct the building itself.

There was a considerable controversy regarding the claim that the structure looks like a huge Christian cross when viewed by anyone sailing into city. Some locals claim that this was an intentional move on the part of the British architects. This issue is more ironic when one considers that the Tower of the Arabs is widely considered to be Dubai’s most important landmark.

It is the world's tallest structure with a membrane façade and the world's tallest hotel (not including buildings with mixed use) and was the first 5-star hotel to surpass 1000 ft (305 m) in height.

In March 2004, the hotel received publicity when professional golfer Tiger Woods hit several golf balls from the hotel's helipad into the Persian Gulf.

In February 2005, professional tennis players Roger Federer and Andre Agassi played an unranked game on the helipad, which was temporarily converted into a grass tennis court, at a height of 211 metres. The helipad has no borders or fences on the edges.

Contrary to popular belief, the Burj Al Arab is not located in the area of Jumeirah (although it is connected to Jumeirah beach), but is in fact located in the community of Umm Suqeim .
The hotel is nice, but far too "over-the-top" for many of us.

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