A Burj by any other name... 

Dubai offers many man-made attractions of outlandish scale

It reaches into the sky like a mirage. By some strange optical illusion it doesn't even look that tall. Perhaps a building that's only 172 metres shy of a kilometre messes with our human scale sensibilities and so we just don't see it for what it is.

At 828 metres, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest man-made structure on earth. By comparison, before the Burj broke all the records, the Warsaw radio mast at 646 metres, was the world's tallest structure and the CN Tower, at 553 metres, was the world's tallest freestanding structure.

To keep other would-be sky barons guessing, the actual height of the Burj was kept a closely-guarded state secret until its official opening on Jan. 4, 2010. To all those contemplating building something higher, be warned: the architectural drafts and retrofit plans are in place to go even higher if the Burj's status is ever challenged. Or so the carefully "leaked" story goes...

By the way, it's understandable if you have never heard the name Burj Khalifa. Until the opening day celebrations, neither had anyone else. From the Burj's conception in 2004, through its construction and until only a few hours before its official opening, it had been called the Burj Dubai.

Did money and politics play a roll in the name change?

The way Sheik (pronounced like "shake") Mohammed of Dubai spends on infrastructure you'd think his Emirate has all the oil. It doesn't. Sheik Khalifa of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) possesses almost all the country's oil. That's right, Khalifa, the same name that now adorns the world's tallest structure (formerly known as Burj Dubai).

In late 2009 Dubai's financial woes came to the attention of the international press and after a long hold-out, Abu Dhabi came to the rescue and bailed out Dubai. Hmm... bail out, Burj name change... nah, that's just a coincidence and idle speculation.

Whatever you call the Burj, opening ceremonies for the building were mesmerizing. Filling the night sky with colour were 828 stroboscope lights and 10,000 fireworks that cascaded from all parts of the building. The light explosions were choreographed to music and synchronized with the US$217 million worth of dancing water fountains that surround the Burj. Many Sheiks from the seven Emirates of the UAE, attended. Sheik Khalifa was noticeably absent.

What's even more mind-boggling than all the world-breaking facts and figures is trying to find the entrance to the world's tallest building, which is located somewhere in the bowels of the world's biggest mall. I attempted this feat a few days after the Burj's opening and assumed that the lack of signage was due to the last-minute name change. The lack of good directions by the mall staff... well that's another matter.


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