The financially troubled Gulf emirate of Dubai on Monday opened the world’s tallest building, a glistening concrete, glass and steel pinnacle rising 828 metres (2,717 feet) out of the desert sands.

Blazing fireworks rippled up and down the massive structure after it was officially opened by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum.

He renamed the building, previously known as Burj Dubai, Burj Khalifa in honour of United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

Sheikh Khalifa is also ruler of Abu Dhabi, the emirate which came to Dubai’s help late last year to the tune of 10 billion dollars to bail out troubled property developer Nakheel, a subsidiary of Dubai World.

“Today the United Arab Emirates achieves the tallest building ever created by the hand of man… and this great project deserves to carry the name of a great man. Today I inaugurate Burj Khalifa,” Sheikh Mohammad said.

Parachutists bearing the UAE colours of red, green, black and white then touched down as a giant portrait of Sheikh Khalifa was projected on an outer wall of the structure which cost 1.5 billion dollars to erect.

In the fireworks spectacle that followed blossoms of flames crackled up and down the huge building and out into the Dubai night sky, followed later by lasers sweeping the horizon from the tower’s many levels.

Dubai hopes the opening of the Burj Khalifa — the latest in a series of grandiose projects — will burnish an image tarnished by its crippling debt woes.

The needle-shaped tower, described by its developer as a “vertical city” as it dwarfs existing skyscrapers, boasts new limits in design and construction.

Emaar Properties, the partly government-owned developer, had maintained the suspense about the skyscraper’s final height, saying only that it exceeded 800 metres (2,625 feet).

On Monday it said the tower has more than 200 floors, only 160 of which will be inhabited, while the remaining floors are for services.

Burj Khalifa has a total built-up area of 5.67 million square feet, including 1.85 million square feet of residential space and more than 300,000 square feet of prime office space, Emaar said.

This amounts to 1,044 apartments and 49 floors of office space, served by 57 lifts. It also has a hotel carrying the Georgio Armani logo.

Bill Baker, a structural and civil engineer and partner in Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), which designed the tower, said it has set a new benchmark.

“We thought that it would be slightly taller than the existing tallest tower of Taipei 101. (Emaar) kept on asking us to go higher but we didn’t know how high we could go,” he said.

“We were able to tune the building like we tune a music instrument. As we went higher and higher and higher, we discovered that by doing that process… we were able to reach heights much higher than we ever thought we could.”

A spiralling Y-shaped design by SOM architect Adrian Smith was used to support the structural core of the tower, which narrows as it ascends. Higher up it becomes a steel structure topped with a huge spire.

To reach the final stages, concrete was propelled to a height of 605 metres — a world record.

Monday’s inauguration of the tower comes, however, after the once-booming real estate sector of the emirate has crashed, halving the value of most Dubai properties in comparison with peak prices recorded in the summer of 2008.

It also comes as Dubai battles a serious debt crisis, resulting from the heavy borrowing by some of its state corporates to finance imposing property projects.

The emirate narrowly escaped financial catastrophe last month as neighbouring deep-pocketed Abu Dhabi threw it a last-minute lifeline worth 10 billion dollars to pay imminent debt owed by Dubai World.

The group last month began negotiations with its creditors with the hope of reaching an agreement over restructuring an accumulated debt of 22 billion dollars amassed by its troubled subsidiaries.

Dubai’s total debt, mostly that of its state-owned companies, amounts to 100 billion dollars.

Abu Dhabi, and the Abu Dhabi-based central bank of the United Arab Emirates, have already extended financial aid of 25 billion dollars to Dubai since it announced early in 2009 that it needed to sort the debt problem of its firms.

Dubai’s economy was hard hit by the global financial crisis, which turned off the tap on vital foreign financing badly needed for its breakneck-speed growth.

Source: AFPrelaxnews, 2010 – Photo Marwan Naamani / Reuters