Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 April 2020

Richard Hammond's 'Big': did you know Burj Khalifa takes 120 window cleaners three months to wash?

Episode seven of Hammond's new show offers a fascinating insight into the beating heart of one of Dubai’s most famous attractions

Dubai came to the small screen in a big way when Richard Hammond’s Big called in at Burj Khalifa to see what makes the world’s tallest building tick.

As part of the show, the former Top Gear presenter travels the world learning about some of its biggest, fastest, tallest and best structures, machines and achievements, and shares his findings with viewers in the trademark “edutainment” style we’ve seen from him previously, on shows such as Brainiac and Science of Stupid.

The show features Hammond investigating every inch of the building, from foundations that use the power of friction to implausibly support the 828-metre giant on foundations of sand, to the lightning arrester at the top of the building’s spire – where the diminutive Hammond proudly announces that for a brief moment he is the world’s tallest man.

We’ve seen Burj Khalifa plenty of times on TV and on cinema screens in the past, but usually as a decorative piece of set dressing, or the background to a dramatic stunt, such as Tom Cruise climbing it in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.

In Big, however, Hammond gets right under the skin of the building, and delivers some surprisingly fun facts you might not have known, in the process.

In one segment, the presenter is given the opportunity to join Burj Khalifa’s window-cleaning team as they abseil down the building’s glass facade. This is a job that takes up to 120 workers three months at a time, and as soon as that three months is up, it’s time to start again.

If you’re not a fan of heights you might want to turn away during parts of this section, as the job looks terrifying, and Hammond is in no rush to sign up full-time once his feet finally touch the ground.

Did you know, too, that the tower’s 57 lifts are laid out like a vertical metro system, with various changes of line needed to get from the base to the top (not to mention a hefty amount of stair and ladder-climbing once you reach the upper limits of the building)? And that the fastest of these lifts is actually faster than a New York City Subway train?

Richard Hammond with Bashar Kassab, Senior Director Facilities Management at Burj Khalifa, Dubai.
Richard Hammond with Bashar Kassab, Senior Director Facilities Management at Burj Khalifa, Dubai.

Another 10 of the building’s lifts are dedicated “lifeboats" pressurised lifts designed to be used to get residents and visitors out in the event of a fire.

Unlike most tall buildings, which instruct would-be passengers to avoid using the lifts in the event of a fire, the massive Burj Khalifa features several dedicated pressurised and fireproof safe rooms containing basic supplies for people to use until the emergency services arrive. The fireproof coating can withstand flames for two hours, while the pressurised atmosphere removes the danger of smoke inhalation.

Hammond shares many captivating snippets of trivia with us in this 45-minute episode, from meeting with Burj Khalifa's structural engineer to find out how the tower doesn’t simply blow over to undertaking hands-on tasks such as climbing to the summit to change a battery in the lightning arrester.

If buildings aren’t your thing, however, the episode also teaches us more about everyone’s favourite spot for visiting friends and family – the world’s tallest dancing fountain at the tower’s base, where Hammond helps out with a cleaning regime as part of his journey of discovery.

Overall, episode seven of Big offers a fascinating insight into the beating heart of Dubai’s most famous attraction, looking beyond the fancy restaurants and crowded viewing decks to the sometimes incredibly complex, and occasionally remarkably simple, everyday things that take place to keep this vertical city running behind the scenes.

It may not be advisable to visit Burj Khalifa amid the continuing coronavirus crisis, but you can learn some impressive facts about the building from the comfort of home in preparation for when your tourist guide duties resume.

Richard Hammond’s Big airs at 10pm on Thursday, March 19 on Discovery Channel (OSN Ch 500), and again on Sunday, March 19 at 4.30pm

Updated: March 19, 2020 09:11 PM

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