x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Burj Khalifa celebrates its first birthday

In its first year of opening, the world's tallest building has succeeded as a beacon of the UAE's sky-high expections.

In its first year, the Burj Khalifa has captured the imagination of many people, both in the UAE and abroad.
In its first year, the Burj Khalifa has captured the imagination of many people, both in the UAE and abroad.

DUBAI // A year ago today, Rashid Awan cheered when he heard the name of the world's tallest tower.

The 28-year-old from Pakistan recalls: "I had been thinking that, if my son was born on such a day, his name should be linked to such an event. I would give my son this name."

Today, Khalifa Awan and the Burj Khalifa both celebrate their first birthday.

In its first year, the Burj Khalifa has captured the imagination of many people such as Mr Awan, both in the UAE and abroad. It has succeeded as both a beacon of the UAE's sky-high aspirations and a fascinating landmark.

According to a Google survey released last month, "Burj Khalifa" became the most-Googled new term of 2010 among UAE internet users.

The Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise picked the skyscraper for a scene in the next instalment of his blockbuster Mission: Impossible series, which will appear in cinemas at the end of the year. Day after day, the Hollywood star dangled from cables near the top of the tower while fans gaped and snapped photos.

"This is definitely the thing to see," said Alex Tsankov, a 30-year-old graduate student who was in Dubai yesterday on his way back to the United States. During his 12-hour stopover, his main sightseeing took place at the Burj Khalifa.

About 4,000 visitors queue up every day for a trip on the world's fastest lift up to the Burj Khalifa observation deck on the 124th floor. So many people are buying tickets these days that they are already sold out until Friday, said Li Wenlian, a 25-year-old accountant from China, who visited the kiosk yesterday.

Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of the company that developed the tower and Downtown area, Emaar, said : "In the coming years, Dubai will be the place that visitors from across the world will choose to celebrate the new world."

Many Dubai residents have internalised that ambition. During the summer, Amjad Hanna and Maram Hadded from Jordan brought their five-day-old son up to the observation deck as an introduction of sorts to high aspirations. "I want him to be a big man," the father said.

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MORE

To see a video of the view from the top of the Burj Khalifa click here,

and to see a replay of the fireworks here

To see a picture gallery, click here

For more stories, click here

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In some ways, the tower also reflects the struggles faced by Dubai.

Over the past year, sale and rental prices have fallen about 30 per cent as more units came on to the market, according to Jesse Downs, the director of research and advisory services at Landmark Advisory.

Finding residents for the 900 apartments in the prestigious tower has not been as easy as expected. Estimates of the occupancy rate range between 25 and 75 per cent, but Emaar declined to confirm the exact figure.

Before the tower opened, owners were expecting to earn double the rent of apartments in neighbouring towers, largely because of the prestige of the address and the incomparable views.

Today, a studio starts at Dh80,000 annual rent, and a two-bedroom goes for Dh180,000 annual rent.

"Owners had high expectations to start," said one consultant at a Dubai real estate agency. "Yes, it's the highest building in the world," he said. "But it's not worth double."

Besides the price, there are other quirks to deter residents. The triangular living rooms featured in some apartments are a turn-off to clients. And residents living above the 43rd floor must take two lifts to reach their homes: one express lift and another to their actual floor. Security is tight, and all visitors, especially those arriving in vehicles, must register beforehand.

Nevertheless, Adam Farani, a property consultant at Better Homes estate agents, said he expects occupancy to pick up this year. Already, residents are moving in at the rate of about two apartments a day.

"The views are stunning," he said. "And what better address is there to have?"

Last week, the Burj Khalifa New Year's celebration — which doubled as the commemoration of the tower's first anniversary — drew half a million people to the area to watch the extravagant fireworks display. More than 10,000 explosives — which took 123 people 15 days to set up — sparkled along the 800-metre length of the building.

Like the building itself, the fireworks display was an extravagant effort to dazzle a global audience, explained Pierre Marcout, whose company produced the show.

"We wanted to establish the image of this new icon around the world," he said. "It's a very good promotion for the UAE."

chuang@thenational.ae