The chief structural engineer of the world’s tallest building visited Lehigh on Friday to speak on the design and construction of the Burj Dubai, the skyscraper located in the United Arab Emirates. The Burj Dubai is expected to be the tallest skyscraper in the world when completed.Burj Dubai

William Baker, partner in charge of Structural and Civil Engineering for the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, has become renowned in the civil engineering field for his work, including that on the construction of the AT&T Corporate Center, the Virginia Beach Convention Center and the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

Baker’s speech was the second part of the Fazlur Rahman Khan Lecture Series, sponsored by Lehigh’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and the Department of Art and Architecture.

Baker pointed out the Burj Dubai is distinctive not only for its height, but also its innovative layout.

Its construction was made possible through the use of high-performance concrete and steel, as well as a Y-shaped floor plan with a hexagonal center, intended to distribute the weight of such a tall building most effectively.

“The time was right in terms of construction technology,” Baker said.

Baker stressed the importance of effective design and structural engineering in the creation of a building throughout his lecture, making his speech particularly relevant to those in Lehigh’s civil engineering curriculum.

“If you go to Lehigh, you can work on projects like that,” Alex Lehmann, ’10, said.

Although the Burj Dubai will, upon its projected 2009 completion, be the tallest ever man-made structure in the world, the exact dimensions of the structure are “confidential,” Baker said.

In order to discourage competitors from constructing an even higher structure, measurements will remain undisclosed until the building’s completion.

However, the Burj Dubai is significantly taller than skyscrapers such as the Sears Tower and the Empire State Building.

In its current state of construction, it is approximately 2,700-feet high, dwarfing the 1451-foot and 1250-foot respective structures.

The total budget required to construct the Birj Dubai was $4.1 billion.

Challenges in the construction of such a large building included the high-speed winds present at high altitudes and the effective support of the weight of a building of its size.

“Wind is the tall building problem,” said Baker, who dealt with the issue of wind speeds over 100 miles per hour through an eighteen-sectioned design intended to scatter wind force.

The issue of weight was dealt with by giving the building a total area of only about 3,000,000 square feet ? “not a lot for a super-tall building,” Baker said.

The building is primarily residential, containing hundreds of apartments spread over 160 habitable floors, many of which have garnered extremely high sale prices.

However, the Burj Dubai also houses a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani and numerous corporate suites.

The building is segmented by height into its different purposes, with apartments above the designer hotel and corporate suites above the apartments.

The floors at the very top of the building are solely mechanical, as is one floor per 30 stories.

Housed on the mechanical floors in 30-story intervals are huge cranes designed to clean or replace windows, if necessary.

Despite the seemingly immense complexity of the Burj Dubai’s architecture, Baker said the building is “the most simple structure you can imagine. And if you’re working on something so simple you can hand-calculate it, you’ve got an idea.”

Many present at Baker’s lecture expressed interest not only in the architecture of the Burj Dubai, but also in its implications for the future.

“If we’re able to build an apartment complex that stands taller than some mountains, who knows what else society is capable of?” Jenna Dorey, ’12, said.

By Katherine Boldosser,  3/24/09