Outside our door, high up in the Burj Khalifa, we board one of the tower’s 57 elevators and are catapulted even higher, to the 123rd floor, as if we were weightless objects being effortlessly lifted through the air. Our ears adjust several times as we speed along at almost 60 feet a second.
This is our journey, a ritual that begins our Friday morning routine, early enough to catch the new light rising over the distant desert.
We have our coffee in the wood-paneled residents’ library, elegantly carpeted with designs mimicking the undulations of dunes and the wispy serifs of Arabic calligraphy.
Looking out beyond the city through giant glass panels, we feel the space of the desert that broadens our horizons and asks us for more. On a perfectly clear day, rare as a gem in this sandy climate, we can see as far as the shores of Iran, over the Strait of Hormuz beyond Oman’s rocky mountains. Looking out the other side of the room we can see across the Persian Gulf, beyond the man-made islands created to form a map of the world.
The Burj Khalifa, where we have lived since 2011, stands over 2,716 feet and 163 stories high. It is the tallest building in the world, over 1,000 feet higher than the next tallest building, in Taiwan. Its glistening silver peak can be seen from over 60 miles away.
Peering down on the rooftops of Dubai’s cityscape, on the smaller towers of a mere 80 stories, we are pulled back to see the vibrant economic activities of this city.
It is surprisingly hard for many visitors to understand Dubai. One needs to see beyond the present and appreciate what its future might be; one needs to understand the real impact of this city as it redefines the personal and collective self-image of Emiratis, of Arabs and of the international residents who call it home. It is tangible proof of Dubai’s growing role in a changing world and an emblem of the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who has ruled since 2006.
The Burj is a vertical city that stands as a center along the new Silk Road. Its residents have migrated here to pursue their trades, to participate in the excitement of establishing a new city. Each person, each family brings individual talents and intentions.
The confluence of ideas and agendas makes for interesting elevator rides and gym encounters. What is often most intriguing in these exchanges is what is unsaid; as was the case on the old Silk Road, origins and destinations are guarded and privacy is protected — and respected.
What is special about the Burj is the uncompromising attention to lifestyle. As we enter the lobby we are greeted with a calm-invoking aroma. Our posture shifts as we relax and breathe in the air of refinement. The nightclubs and restaurants in the Burj’s Armani Hotel attract a high-fashion international set with intriguing energy.
Arabs from nearby countries regard their apartments here as treasured safe havens. Emiratis proudly call the Burj home, and Westerners feel the privilege of living in an iconic building in a foreign land. This mixture deposits rich life experiences that we enjoy now and bank for future rewind.
The Burj Khalifa was designed with Middle Eastern influences in mind, drawing on patterns from traditional Islamic architecture, like the mashrabiya window lattices that screened families from the harsh desert sun and provided privacy in dense villages.
The design likewise draws from nature: the building’s architect and developers chose a flower indigenous to the region, the hymenocallis, as an inspiration for the tower’s design. The building tapers upward from a wide tripod base, its petals peeling back in steps to ultimately reveal a single stamen of steel. It took five years to build, a speed record for a project of this size. As we enjoy our Friday morning view the oft-quoted reflection of Winston Churchill comes to mind: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
This is a building that calls us to be personally reflective in spaces of pure harmony and to be grand in our own aspirations, just as the building is itself.
Lauren Arnold is a health care executive, and Mike Arnold is an artist and architect.