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The tower was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), who also designed the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago and the One World Trade Center in New York City. Burj Khalifa uses the bundled tube design of the Willis Tower, invented by Fazlur Rahman Khan. Proportionally, the design uses half the amount of steel used in the construction of the Empire State Building due to the tubular system. Its design is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for The Illinois, a mile-high skyscraper designed for Chicago.

According to Marshall Strabala, a SOM architect who worked on the building’s design team, Burj Khalifa was designed based on the 73 floor Tower Palace Three, an all residential building in Seoul. In its early planning, Burj Khalifa was intended to be entirely residential.

Subsequent to the original design by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Emaar Properties chose Hyder Consulting to be the supervising engineer with NORR Group Consultants International Ltd chosen to supervise the architecture of the project. Hyder was selected for their expertise in structural and MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) engineering. Hyder Consulting’s role was to supervise construction, certify SOM’s design, and be the engineer and architect of record to the UAE authorities.

NORR’s role was the supervision of all architectural components including on site supervision during construction and design of a 6-storey addition to the Office Annex Building for architectural documentation. NORR was also responsible for the architectural integration drawings for the Armani Hotel included in the Tower. Emaar Properties also engaged GHD, an international multidisciplinary consulting firm, to act as an independent verification and testing authority for concrete and steelwork.

The spiral minaret at the Great Mosque of Samarra

The design of Burj Khalifa is derived from patterning systems embodied in Islamic architecture. According to the structural engineer, Bill Baker of SOM, the building’s design incorporates cultural and historical elements particular to the region such as the spiral minaret. The spiral minaret spirals and grows slender as it rises. The Y-shaped plan is ideal for residential and hotel usage, with the wings allowing maximum outward views and inward natural light.

As the tower rises from the flat desert base, there are 27 setbacks in a spiralling pattern, decreasing the cross section of the tower as it reaches toward the sky and creating convenient outdoor terraces. At the top, the central core emerges and is sculpted to form a finishing spire. At its tallest point, the tower sways a total of 1.5 m (4.9 ft).

As part of a study which reveals the unnecessary “vanity space” added to the top of the world’s tallest buildings by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), it was revealed that without its 244-metre spire, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa would drop to a substantially smaller 585-metre height without any reduction in usable space. As the report states, the spire “could be a skyscraper on its own”.

To support the unprecedented height of the building, the engineers developed a new structural system called the buttressed core, which consists of a hexagonal core reinforced by three buttresses that form the ‘Y’ shape. This structural system enables the building to support itself laterally and keeps it from twisting.

The spire of Burj Khalifa is composed of more than 4,000 tonnes (4,400 short tons; 3,900 long tons) of structural steel. The central pinnacle pipe weighing 350 tonnes (390 short tons; 340 long tons) was constructed from inside the building and jacked to its full height of over 200 m (660 ft) using a strand jack system. The spire also houses communications equipment.

In 2009, architects announced that more than 1,000 pieces of art would adorn the interiors of Burj Khalifa, while the residential lobby of Burj Khalifa would display the work of Jaume Plensa, featuring 196 bronze and brass alloy cymbals representing the 196 countries of the world. It was planned that the visitors in this lobby would be able to hear a distinct timbre as the cymbals, plated with 18-carat gold, are struck by dripping water, intended to mimic the sound of water falling on leaves.

The cladding system is designed to withstand Dubai’s extreme summer temperatures, and consists of 142,000 m2 (1,528,000 sq ft) of reflective glazing, and aluminium and textured stainless steel spandrel panels with vertical tubular fins. Over 26,000 glass panels were used in the exterior cladding of Burj Khalifa, and more than 300 cladding specialists from China were brought in for the cladding work on the tower.

The architectural glass provides solar and thermal performance as well as an anti-glare shield for the intense desert sun, extreme desert temperatures and strong winds. In total the glass covers more than 174,000 m2 (1,870,000 sq ft)

The exterior temperature at the top of the building is thought to be 6 °C (11 °F) cooler than at its base.

A 304-room Armani Hotel, the first of four by Armani, occupies 15 of the lower 39 floors. The hotel was supposed to open on 18 March 2010, but after several delays, it finally opened to the public on 27 April 2010. The corporate suites and offices were also supposed to open from March onwards,yet the hotel and observation deck remained the only parts of the building which were open in April 2010.

The sky lobbies on the 43rd and 76th floors house swimming pools.Floors through to 108 have 900 private residential apartments (which, according to the developer, sold out within eight hours of being on the market). An outdoor zero-entry swimming pool is located on the 76th floor of the tower. Corporate offices and suites fill most of the remaining floors, except for a 122nd, 123rd and 124th floor where the At.mosphere restaurant, sky lobby and an indoor and outdoor observation deck is located respectively. In January 2010, it was planned that Burj Khalifa would receive its first residents from February 2010.

A total of 57 elevators and 8 escalators are installed. The elevators have a capacity of 12 to 14 people per cabin, the fastest rising and descending at up to 10 m/s (33 ft/s) for double-deck elevators. However, the world’s fastest single-deck elevator still belongs to Taipei 101 at 16.83 m/s (55.2 ft/s). Engineers had considered installing the world’s first triple-deck elevators, but the final design calls for double-deck elevators. The double-deck elevators are equipped with entertainment features such as LCD displays to serve visitors during their travel to the observation deck. The building has 2,909 stairs from the ground floor to the 160th floor.

The graphic design identity work for Burj Khalifa is the responsibility of Brash Brands, who are based in Dubai. Design of the global launch events, communications, and visitors centres for Burj Khalifa have also been created by Brash Brands as well as the roadshow exhibition for the Armani Residences, which are part of the Armani Hotel within Burj Khalifa, which toured Milan, London, Jeddah, Moscow and Delhi.