x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Global icon marks its 10th year

The history and significance of the Burj al Arab hotel - synonymous with Dubai and recognised the world over.

The construction activity of Burj al Arab in January 1996.
The construction activity of Burj al Arab in January 1996.

The Burj al Arab hotel, identified the world over as the symbol of Dubai, is 10 years old today. As it celebrates its first decade in business, Leah Oatway looks at the history and significance of the stunning structure on its own manmade island off Jumeirah Beach Dubai // They were asked to create an icon for the nation, a building to capture the imagination of the world and represent the hospitality, vision and history of the UAE.

Today that building, the Burj al Arab hotel, celebrates its 10 years in business. The hotel was designed by the British architect Tom Wright, and the anniversary comes some 16 years after the design team first sketched out their ideas. Mr Wright, who was the "architectural concept director", is now the design director at Atkins, the London-based company that undertook the project. Simon Crispe, the regional commercial director of Atkins Middle East and Asia, was the multi-discipline design manager of the whole design team.

He believes it is not up to him to decide whether he and his colleagues successfully fulfilled their brief. "I think others are a far better judge," he said. "Certainly, we have a greater awareness now of the impact our projects can have on a city, even a country." Adrian Bevan, a tourism consultant who formerly worked with Visit Britain, the UK's official tourism and travel guide, was more forthcoming.

"Its architectural excellence and innovation have acted as a benchmark for the GCC and the world," he said. Mr Bevan lived and worked in Dubai when construction of the hotel began. "It is in my top 10 - even top five actually - iconic world landmarks." Standing 321 metres high on an artificial island just off Jumeirah Beach, the simple, sail-like structure is the world's tallest all-suite luxury hotel. It is taller than the Eiffel Tower and only 60 metres shorter than the Empire State Building.

The building, along with its lavish interior and impeccable service, has seen it win a plethora of awards in the tourism, architecture and interior design industries over the past 10 years. Its latest accolade saw it crowned "most iconic hotel and landmark in the GCC region", by the Middle East interior design show Index. Around the world, many people recognise the hotel when shown a photograph of it.

Mr Crispe said keeping the design of the hotel simple, and in context with Dubai's nautical heritage, was the key to creating the structure. "We looked at the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sydney Opera House and even the Pyramids and asked what made them memorable," he recalled. "We decided that they are so simple in design terms that even a child could draw them; even if you are not an artist you could draw it well enough that anyone could know what it was. We think that is a really important part of an iconic idea."

Such buildings add to the overall brand of a city or country, attracting inward investment and tourism, said Stephen Cheliotis, the chief executive of the Centre for Brand Analysis in London. This month, the fifth annual Country Brand Index ranked the UAE the top country brand in the Middle East and North Africa region, and 29th out of 102 countries globally. The rankings are based on a poll of 3,000 international business and leisure travellers from nine countries and looks at how countries are branded, identifying emerging global trends.

This year's study was conducted by Futurebrand. Ramel Kabbani, the senior director at Futurebrand Middle East, said buildings such as the Burj al Arab contributed to the way the region, and Dubai and the UAE in particular, was seen by the rest of the world. "Originally there was Emirates Airline, then the Burj al Arab, now we can add the Burj Dubai as the tallest building in the world ... all of these are a manifestation of what Dubai is: Arabic values of good hospitality with Dubai's vision of the future."


Berlin At the Brandenburg Gate, one of Germany's best-known monuments, many people recognised Dubai's most famous building when shown a photograph of it, but they often had trouble naming the Burj al Arab hotel. "I've seen it before somewhere but I don't know what it's called, what it's for or where it stands," said Heike Siebold, 36, a tourist from Munich visiting Berlin. "I recognise it, it's a famous piece of architecture, looks like a hotel that I will never be able to afford to sleep in, sadly," said Harald Weininger, a Berlin resident. Another passer-by was more familiar with the building. "I know that. I saw it when I went to Dubai to watch Bayern Munich train this year. Very impressive building. Dubai can be proud of it. But it will take a while before it's as famous as the Brandenburg Gate," said Christian Dombach, 43. "I wouldn't mind landing there in a helicopter." - David Crossland Nairobi Kenya and the UAE enjoy close ties. Emirates Airline and Kenya Airways offer daily, five-hour flights between Nairobi and Dubai. Many Kenyans travel to the UAE to buy goods to sell back in Kenya and the Burj al Arab is fairly well-known. Travel agents' advertising posters usually include a picture of the building. However, knowledge of the Burj al Arab here seems to depend on an individual's education and income. Philip Jalango, 32, an engineer from Nairobi, said he had visited Dubai many times for work and holidays and he immediately recognised the Burj al Arab from a photograph and knew its name. "It's a serious work of art," he added. Others recognised the building but could not name it. "I think it's a hotel in Dubai," said Jackie Wangui, 30, a banker from Nairobi. "I've never been to Dubai, but that's what you always see in photos of Dubai." - Matt Brown Washington When Americans strolling in the US capital on a chilly afternoon were shown a photograph of the Burj al Arab, a few recognised it. Some people knew that it was in the Middle East, but no one knew it by name. "I think it's a hotel in Dubai," said David Longwell, 37, who works for a marketing firm in Washington, DC. "I know that it was designed to look like a sailboat." "I think it's somewhere on an island within the United Arab Emirates," said Eli Colasante, 19, from Florida. At first he wondered whether the structure was an oversized oil rig before deciding it was a "resort or something". "It's not that really tall, tall, tall, tall building, right?" asked Mr Colasante, in front of the White House. "It looks like an office building in Miami," said Debbie Ferguson, 49, from Nashville, Tennessee. - Steven Stanek Johannesburg With the exception of the stadiums built for next year's World Cup football finals, modern architecture is not a South African strong point. On the streets of Johannesburg an image of the Burj al Arab was met with puzzlement more than anything else. "It's a steamer, a ship," said Luyanda Ngqungquta, 27, who works at the Mall of Rosebank, one of the city's more upmarket shopping centres. "This one is the satellite," he said, pointing to the hotel's helicopter landing pad. "This is an aerial." Peter Faugust, 68, a technician at Witwatersrand University, said: "It looks like a building. It's been built in the shape of a fish, right, a fish jumping out of the water?" Only one person named the building correctly: Ferzana Takolia, 33, a jewellery designer who has holidayed in Dubai. - Sebastien Berger Phnom Penh They may not know the name of the building, or even what country it is in, but the Burj al Arab is recognised in Cambodia's capital. Samnang, 31, a waitress at the Rising Sun restaurant, said, "It's in Dubai. I saw it on TV. It's like a boat, like when the wind comes ... A sail! In Khmer [Cambodian] we say 'Dok Cdong'." Samnang, who only goes by her first name, said she had seen a television programme about it while at work. "They put rocks in the sea. I asked a customer, 'What are they doing?' And he said, 'They are building a tower in Dubai.'" Sokputpun Reay, 32, a store manager, was a little confused about the hotel's location. "It's in Dubai, in Saudi right?" he said. "It's in a Muslim country. I forget which one. It's a rich country. I saw in it a magazine. They say it's the best hotel in the world. They say it's the most expensive in the world." - Jared Ferrie foreign.desk@thenational.ae