Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and a centerpiece of downtown Dubai, is also central to the Dubai government’s push to diversify its economy beyond oil. In pursuit of the dream of becoming a center for tourism, real estate and other investment, a new metropolis and collection of skyscrapers has sprung from the desert floor.
Dozens of nearby buildings are under construction — including some that would dwarf the skylines of other cities. Construction labor is provided by South Asians and other foreigners at very low wages. The rules and legal rights of non-citizens, especially for those without wealth, remain unclear and subject to change. Dubai is one of the United Arab Emirates, and is ruled by its Emir, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
There is a gloss of modernity, consumerism, and openness to tourism and investment from around the world. But underneath — even for the casual visitor — there is also a tension caused by glimpses of exploitation of workers from other lands, codes of behavior with invisible lines that must not be crossed, and a dispiriting effect from the lack of human-scaled spaces and structures in and around the downtown.
Many of these pictures were taken from the observation deck on the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa. There is a second, more expensive observation area on the 148th floor, 6 floors of corporate suites above that, and another 9 floors for mechanical, communication and broadcast equipment.