The Massively Faulty Tower of Dubai

Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAEGood thing you didn't decide to buy one of the 1,000 apartments for sale in the tallest tower in the universe, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the now cash-strapped Emirate of outrageous excess in the Persian Gulf.

If you had you might be hiking up a zillion stairs to your home, lugging groceries.

Just a month after we saw the fireworks red glare at the building's much ballyhooed debut, the news arrived that its observation deck is shut down due to some unexplained snafu, perhaps electrical or something to do with the half-mile high tower's 57 elevators.

This being the Middle East, though, information wasn't very forthcoming about what happened. Latest reports say the deck will reopen on Feb. 14th, so visitors can pay $108 per person (or $27 if you book in advance) to have a bird's eye view of...other big ugly buildings and sand.

Also uncertain is whether electricity in other parts of the building were knocked out -- not that it's a big deal because there's hardly anyone living or working on the 106-or-so floors (nobody knows the exact count) of residential and office space, thanks to Dubai's recent fall from financial grace and real estate meltdown.
Officially the deck -- called At the Top -- was temporarily closed for "maintenance and upgrade" due to "unexpected high traffic," the building's website announced, adding that there were "technical issues with the power supply."

The AP did dig out some facts. Visitors on the deck heard a loud boom, then saw dust "that looked like smoke creeping through a crack in an elevator door." About 15 people were trapped in the elevator for 45 minutes before rescue teams arrived.

Short circuits can happen anywhere, of course, but this is very "Towering Inferno." So let us reflect for a moment on the $1.5 billion price tag for the Skidmore Owings and Merrill-designed building.

The Burj was to have been Dubai's moment of glory, the culmination of a frenzied building boom (thanks in part to cheap imported labor) and its emergence as a financial and tourist center. With its palm-shaped man-made islands with villas for foreign residents and amenities like an indoor ski slope, Dubai was touted as the place to be for celebrities and global oligarchs -- although quite frankly, we never understood who actually lived there and why. The Burj, which also houses a soon to open Armani-branded hotel, was the glass-and-steel monument to Dubai's apparent success.

But surprise surprise: It was all a big frothy bubble. And when it popped Dubai was saddled with $80 billion or so in debt and had to beg its neighbor Abu Dhabi for a bailout. Dubai was so grateful it changed the name of landmark tower from Burj Dubai to Burj Khalifia, in honor of the guy who runs the oil-rich state next door and engineered the rescue.

So if you still want that condo in the sky, bargains abound. Forbes reported that prices have plunged by about 50 percent from their $2,700 square foot peak in 2008 and might dip even further. Don't forget your walking shoes.

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