Burj Khalifa, a Symbol of Dubai

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.

The Tallest Building - Dubai's Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa

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. 

The Giant's Fingers
The Giant’s Fingers
Dubai Mall
Dubai Shopping and Entertainment Mall
Looking Toward Dubai Creek
Looking Toward Dubai Creek
A False Clocktower in the Distance
A False Clocktower in the Distance
Observing the Observers, Dubai
Observing the Observers
Where Major Buildings Look Like Toys
Where Major Buildings Look Like Toys
The Next Hole is Dug
The Next Hole is Dug
The Emir's Dream
The Emir’s Dream

The Instant City

Camel's Nose

It isn’t exactly instant, but in the space of a few decades, Abu Dhabi has gone from a desert town to a metropolis. Skyscrapers are sprouting from the ground, and the camel’s nose of oil wealth is much more than just under the tent.

Development may be a strategy to diversify the economy and reduce dependence on oil, but it is hard to imagine who will occupy all these expensive new buildings coming onto the market all at once. On the other hand, just building them may be the more immediate goal right now.

Abu Dhabi harbor
Under Construction
Rising on the Shore
Rising on the Shore
New Apartments and More
New Apartments and More
Blue Wall reflections
Blue Wall
The Geometry of Money

The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is imposing and beautiful – perhaps the most stunning structure in this modern city littered with immense and stunning structures rising out of the desert floor.

The courtyard, paved in a floral marble mosaic is approximately 180,000 square feet. The hand-made carpet inside is believed to be the largest in the world, measuring over 60,000 square feet, and weighing 35 tons. The chandeliers hanging in the center of the main rooms are studded with thousands of Swarovski crystals.

Over 3,000 people were employed in the mosque’s construction, from 1996 to 2007. Artisans and materials came from countries around the world, from India to the United Kingdom, and Italy to New Zealand. It is hard to comprehend the expense and the labor lavished on of this place of worship — intended as a monument to Islamic diversity and historical and modern art and architecture, according to the Sheikh after which it is named.


Main Domes


Interior Pillar


Small Inner Dome and Ceiling


Inner Courtyard and Minaret


Large Chandelier


“Small” Chandelier


Exterior Walkway


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