Tallest Hotels in the World: Does the Burj Al Arab Measure Up?

The Burj Al Arab is often referred to as the only 7-star hotel in the world. What does a hotel have to do to get a reputation like that? The hotels in Dubai are always pushing the limits in order to stand out from the crowd. People want to be able to brag and say that they stayed in the most expensive hotel in the world, or the newest hotel, or the tallest…

Is Burj Al Arab the tallest hotel in the world? No, the Burj Al Arab is not the tallest hotel in the world. It is currently the 7th tallest hotel in the world and the 17th tallest building in Dubai. Nevertheless, it maintains its status as one of Dubai’s most well-known landmarks.

However, the title of tallest hotel in the world does belong to a hotel in Dubai. Actually, out of the top 10 tallest hotels in the world, six of them are in Dubai. This got me thinking, why is Dubai home to so many of the tallest hotels? And at one point, was the Burj Al Arab the tallest of them all?

How tall is the Burj Al Arab?

Even though it is not the tallest hotel in the world, the Burj Al Arab still holds its own at an impressive 321 meters or 1,053 ft tall. And at the time of its completion in 1999 it did in fact hold the title of world’s tallest hotel. The Burj Al Arab is far from the tallest hotel (or building) in Dubai these days. But it remains an iconic part of the Dubai skyline thanks to its innovative sail-shaped design.

In 1999 the Burj Al Arab was somewhat of a pioneer. Dubai was still in the midst of its transition into the capital of luxury and excess that it is today, and the opulent Burj Al Arab helped propel it into the next millennium as a force to be reckoned with.

The architectural and structural work that went into the Burj Al Arab is nothing short of incredible. Since the hotel is built on top of a man-made island which is essentially sand, the structural supports had to be very carefully engineered to ensure that they could hold the weight of the building.

Structural engineering was managed by Atkins (a British multinational engineering, design, architectural design, project management and consulting services company) and the lead architect on the project was British architect, Tom Wright. Unsurprisingly, the Burj Al Arab became Mr. Wright’s best-known project to date.

Other parts of the building incorporate equally clever innovations. for example, the glass fiber screen that protects the southern aspect of the building from the elements also shields the atrium from direct sunlight. In order to combat the wind-blown sand from the desert the screen is coated in teflon – a material that stops the sand from sticking to the surface of the screen.

The Burj Al Arab is currently the 17th tallest building in Dubai and the 92nd tallest building in the world. That probably won’t last long though. Every year taller and taller buildings are going up all over the world. The Burj Al Arab likely won’t even be in the top 100 for much longer.

Even so, there is no doubt that the Burj Al Arab will retain its status as a Dubai landmark for many years to come!

What is the tallest hotel in the world?

So far you know that the Burj Al Arab isn’t the tallest hotel in the world, but maybe you’re still wondering which hotel does hold that title. The tallest hotel in the world is the Gevora Hotel at 356.3 meters or 1,169 ft.

The Gevora stands only 35.3 meters taller than the Burj Al Arab – roughly the equivalent of half the wingspan of a Boeing 747. And it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the Gevora Hotel is also located in Dubai!

The funny thing is that when the Gevora earned itself the title of tallest hotel in the world, it dethroned the JW Marriot Marquis Dubai which is ALSO located in Dubai. On top of that, the Gevora is only 1.3 meters taller than the JW Marriot Marquis Dubai!

While they have the Burj Al Arab beat when it comes to height, neither the Gevora of the JW Marriot Marquis Dubai come close to the Burj Al Arab when it comes to luxury – although the JW Marriot Marquis Dubai is a 5-star hotel and the Gevora hotel has a respectable 4-star rating.

Taller isn’t always better!

The world’s tallest hotels

Here’s a look at the 10 tallest hotels in the world:

  1. Gevora Hotel, Dubai, UAE: 356.3 m (1,169 ft)
  2. JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, Dubai, UAE: 355 m (1,165 ft)
  3. Four Seasons Place Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: 343 m (1,125 ft)
  4. SLS Dubai Hotel and Residences, Dubai, UAE: 336 m (1,102 ft)
  5. Rose Rayhaan by Rotana, Dubai, UAE: 333 m (1,093 ft)
  6. Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea: 330 m (1,080 ft)
  7. Burj Al Arab, Dubai, UAE: 321 m (1,053 ft)
  8. Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel, Dubai, UAE: 309 m (1,014 ft)
  9. Baiyoke Tower II, Bangkok, Thailand: 309 m (1,014 ft)
  10. Wuxi Maoye City – Marriott Hotel, Wuxi, China: 304 m (997 ft)

As you can see, six of these hotels are located in Dubai!

Criteria for tall buildings and hotels

There is some debate when it comes designating the height of a building. Does a spire or antenna count towards the building height? Or should the building’s height only be measured up to the last occupiable floor?

When it comes to hotels, even further designations must be made. Some buildings are used for multiple purposes so they may have a hotel, but their primary use may be, for example, a conference center. A building such as this is not eligible for the title of world’s tallest hotel as the list of world’s tallest hotels only features buildings that are exclusively hotels.

If you think that that’s being a bit picky, it’s still nothing compared to the spire debate. The most recent debate on this topic involved the new One World Trade Center in New York City. This building is understandably of huge cultural importance, and the building designers wanted the building to reflect that (literally – it’s very shiny).

Upon completion One WTC became the tallest building in the US and in North America, eclipsing the former tallest building – the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago. But it was only able to achieve that by adding a spire. The addition of the spire became quite controversial and there was much deabte as to whether the spire should count towards the height of the building.

To keep things in line, there is actually a council that decides such matters: The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. In order for a spire to “count” towards the height of a building, it needs to be integral to the building’s structure. An antenna does not count because although it is technically part of the building, it is not a structural component of the building.

The Burj Al Arab itself achieves much of its height through a similar “trick.” A whopping 39% of the total building height is made up of unoccupied space. Which means that while the building’s architectural height is 321 m (1,053 ft), the height of the top floor (the 56th floor to be exact) is only 197.5 m (648 ft).

Why are there so many tall buildings in Dubai?

Did you know that Dubai has the fourth-most skyscrapers out of all the cities in the world? Only New York, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen have more skyscrapers than Dubai. And in case you were wondering, Dubai has about 200 of them! But what exactly is the reason for this abundance of skyscrapers?

Answers on this subject vary, but here are a few of the popular responses:

Building luxury skyscrapers will attract tourists. Dubai used to get most of its revenue from oil money, but these days the bulk of it comes from tourism. In part, the opulent and over-the-top nature of Dubai’s skyscrapered skyline is what draws upwards of 15 million tourists to Dubai each year.

Global recognition. This is in the same vein as the first answer, but knabbing titles like “World’s Tallest Building” or “World’s Tallest Hotel” earns Dubai some serious street cred. Having landmark buildings attracts the attention of investors which generates more money to build even more tall buildings!

People live in them. For the same reasons that tourists want to visit Dubai, others want to live the luxury lifestyle in Dubai. These ultra-swanky skyscrapers fit the bill.

What’s so cool about the Burj Al Arab?

There are almost innumerable things that make the Burj Al Arab a really cool place to visit, or, if you’re lucky enough, stay the night! Here are some fun facts about the Burj Al Arab.

  • People refer to it as a 7-star hotel, even thought this title is hotly contended and is not in fact a real designation
  • Burj Al Arab is Arabic for “Tower of the Arabs”
  • The Burj Al Arab is impressive not just for its size, but also its location It is built on its own artificial island that is connected to the mainland by a fantastic bridge!
  • Construction on the Burj Al Arab started in 1994 and was completed in 1999
  • It is one of the most expensive hotels in the world and it is ranked by the Forbes Travel Guide as one of the most luxurious hotels in the world
  • The Burj Al Arab cost US$1 billion to build
  • The design of the Burj Al Arab is meant to emulate the sail of a ship
  • The Burj Al Arab is one of the most photographed buildings in the world
  • The Burj Al Arab has 10 amazing restaurants and non-guests are welcome to enjoy them – good news for those who can’t afford to stay the night
  • Many guests arrive at the Burj Al Arab by helicopter, which land on the famous helipad located at a height of 212 meters

What makes the Burj Al Arab so luxurious?

The Burj Al Arab achieves its 5-star (7-star?) rating by going above and beyond in a number of ways. For example, there is a reception desk on each floor of the hotel! The hotel is home to amazing restaurants, a two-story spa, and even a terrace complete with a saltwater infinity pool, a swim up bar, and a white sand beach. Here are a few other reasons this hotel is on the list of the most luxurious hotels in the world:

The fleet. That’s right, the Burj Al Arab has a fleet. A fleet of luxury vehicles that you can rent during your stay. The luxury supercars in the fleet include Aston Martins, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis. If you don’t want to drive yourself around Dubai you can take advantage of the chauffeur service and get driven around in a Rolls-Royce or a BMW.

The Talise Spa. This place is so much more than a spa. There is a fitness center and squash court – I’m not sure where else in the world you can play squash 150 meters in the air! The spa also includes infinity pools, saunas, steam rooms, and plunge pools. Not to mention the spa treatments! You can get facials, body treatments, manicures, pedicures, massages and specialty treatments.

The Terrace. The Terrace incorporates all the best aspects of the beach experience but includes a few added bonuses such as sun beds, luxury day beds, 4 Jacuzzis, and a swim up bar. It is built over top of the ocean and when swimming in the saltwater infinity pool you will feel as though you are floating in the Persian Gulf.

Gold On 27. At this gastrobar you can get an assortment of creative and fancy drinks as well as decadent desserts and delicious appetizers. The drink menu includes specialty drinks such as the 27 Fizz (modeled after the Gin Fizz) and the Djin Genie (based on an Aperol Spritz). The décor in this bar is amazing, you’ll realize why it’s called the Gold On 27!

Al Mahara. One of the most interesting features of the Burj Al Arab is its “underwater” restaurant. Al Mahara is surrounded by a giant, 260,000 gallon, oval-shaped aquarium that will make you feel like you are under the sea. This restaurant specializes in seafood and is run by Michelin-starred chef, Kim Joinié-Maurin.

The rooms. The rooms are spacious, elegant, excessive, and accompanied by unbeatable views. The cost of a room per night at the Burj Al Arab starts at about $2,000 USD. That price soars to upwards of $14,000 USD per night if you want to book the 780 square meter Royal Two Bedroom Suite.

The service. I already mentioned the reception desks on every floor. But other services offered include a professional packing and unpacking service, a shoeshine service, a 24/7 butler and childcare services. The staff makes sure that literally nothing stands between you and pure enjoyment and relaxation.

The list goes on and on, but the splendour of the Burj Al Arab is something that has to be seen with your own eyes in order to be believed. Part of you is probably thinking, it can’t be all that great can it? Oh, it can. And it is.

What crazy things have happened on the Burj Al Arab helipad?

All you have to do is google “Burj Al Arab helipad” and you will be treated to a host of unbelievable photos. And that’s because the Burj Al Arab helipad has seen a whole host of unusual and exhilarating events over the years. It is one of the most iconic features of this iconic hotel.

It’s not right on top of the building but it’s still located an impressive 212 meters above the ground. Although its height and design are both impressive that’s not what has made this helicopter pad front-page news several times over. What captures the attention of the world are the stunts that have been performed on the helipad.

The first stunt happened in 2005. Roger Federer and rival Andre Agassi played an exhibition match on the helipad. It must have been fun because Federer returned for round two in 2012 – this time he played against Novak Djokovic.

Golfing legend Tiger Woods also graced the helipad with his presence when he teed off and sent a golf ball sailing over the Persian Gulf. Golfer Rory McIlroy also made an appearance although he performed a tricky bunker shot instead.

Then, in 2013, Formula 1 driver David Coulthard performed an astounding feat. The talented driver actually got in his racecar and did doughnuts (driving in fast, tight circles) on the top of the helipad. This stunt involved some serious logistics. The race car had to be airlifted onto to the helipad and the building engineers had to sign off on the project to make sure it was safe.

Daredevils and extreme athletes have performed all sorts of other crazy stunts such as kiteboarding off the helipad and landing in the Persian Gulf. But not all the stunts that are proposed get accepted. Each stunt is considered carefully before being approved and safety is always a big concern.

There is (luckily) a safer way for the average Joe to enjoy the helipad which is to PARTY. The hotel will facilitate the celebration of birthdays or other special events on the helipad – you can even get married up there! If you can count yourself one of the lucky people who has set foot on the Burj Al Arab helipad, you are a member of an elite group indeed.

The publicity that these helipad stunts and celebrations brings to the Burj Al Arab is definitely encouraged. After all, this is exactly the kind of thing that comes to mind when people think of Dubai, and part of what attracts so many visitors to the city.

Buildings of the future

Because of the way humans are, there are still more hotels being built that will eclipse the current world record for tallest hotel. There are currrently three more hotels under construction that will surpass the Burj Al Arab in height (but maybe not in splendour).

That means that within the next few years the Burj Al Arab will drop from the 7th tallest hotel in the word to the 10th tallest. Here’s to a few more years in the top 10!

Related questions

What is the tallest building in the world?

Everyone reading will be relieved to know that the title of world’s tallest building also belongs to a building in Dubai: the Burj Khalifa. The Burj Khalifa stands at an amazing 828 meters or 2,717 ft.

10 tallest buildings in the world:

  1. Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE – 828 m/2,717 ft
  2. Shanghai Tower, Shanghai, China – 632 m/2,703 ft
  3. Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower, Mecca, Saudi Arabia – 601 m/1,971 ft
  4. Ping An Finance Center, Shenzhen, China – 599 m/1,965 ft
  5. Goldin Finance 117, Tianjin, China – 596.6 m/1,957 ft
  6. Lotte World Lower, Seoul, Korea – 554.5 m/1,819 ft
  7. One World Trade Center, New York City, USA – 541.3 m/1,776 ft
  8. Guangzhou CTF Finance Center, Guangzhou, China – 530 m/1,739 ft
  9. Tianjin CTF Finance Center, Tianjin, China – 530 m/1,739 ft
  10. China Zun, Beijing, China – 528 m/1,732 ft

Some food for thought: the Burj Khalifa is so high that when you look out towards the horizon from the observation deck you can see the curvature of the Earth. If that wasn’t enough, people are still aiming higher!

In the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia construction is underway on a building that will be 1,000 meters tall. This new building will be called the Jeddah Tower and it’s set to be completed in 2021.

Are tall buildings dangerous?

In my opinion, a 1,000-meter tall building is entirely unnecessary. Humans never seem to stop learning the lesson that bigger is not always better. The Titanic comes to mind…

According to the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat once a building reaches a height of 150 m (490 ft) it is considered a skyscraper.
When it comes to skyscrapers the building design has to take into account structural loading, wind loading, and numerous other vertical and horizontal loading factors.

The taller the building, the more structural load you add to the building. When you start thinking about a building that is as tall as the Jeddah Tower, you can only imagine that the design has to be nothing short of ingenious.

Not only does the design have to be flawless, so do the safety measures. What if there’s an earthquake? What if there’s a fire? The design actually has to incorporate the safety measures so that if the worst comes to worst, the building design itself should prevent major calamity.

In order to slow or stop the spread of fire, the building design will incorporate fire retardant materials and strategically placed fire suppression systems.

Since 9/11 more and more is being to ensure the safety of the occupants of skyscrapers. It is simply not feasible for everyone to exit the building quickly in the event of a fire, so instead skyscraper design focuses on making sure the building won’t collapse so that people can remain in the building while the fire crew works to put out the fire.

Also as a result of 9/11 much effort has been made to improve the evacuation procedure. Innovative new inventions such as evacuation slides and fire-proof elevators will make it much more feasible for people to safely escape a burning skyscraper.

Food for thought: without elevators there would be no skyscrapers. No one would EVER walk up all of those floors! Without elevators our buildings would be confined to five maybe ten stories max!

Do indoor aquariums ever break?

The first thing I think about when I hear the words 260,000-gallon aquarium is “what if it breaks?” What exactly would happen if an aquarium of that size were to break? The answer is, it wouldn’t be pretty!

It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened. In December of 2012, a 33-ton glass tank in the Shanghai Orient shopping center broke suddenly, sending water, glass, and sea creatures flying through the mall. The reason for the glass breaking wasn’t entirely clear, although some guessed that it might have been due to the fact that the temperature in Shanghai had cooled rather rapidly.

A similar scare happened in 2012 at the Dubai mall when its 2.5 million gallon aquarium cracked. This caused water to leak out and the mall to be evacuated but luckily disaster was averted and none of the 33,000 sea creatures living in the aquarium (or humans frequenting the mall) were harmed.

The aquarium in the Burj Al Arab is much, much larger than the aquarium that broke in Shanghai, so the results would likely be much more disastrous. Luckily, the building designers and engineers considered this carefully and made sure that the walls of the aquarium were a solid 18 cm (about 7 inches) thick.



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