Burj Khalifa and How Bridges, Buildings and other Big Things Unite Nations

I’m a fan of Twitter but I was on deadline and only half-following tweets a few nights ago as messages streamed in from people in the UAE at the inauguration of the world’s tallest building Burj Dubai, since renamed Burj Khalifa. A few made me giggle, like that of @OmaReina who re-tweeted @trebbye:”#BurjDubai is now Burj Abu Dhabi…I mean #BurjKhalifa, as stated by his highness”, a reference to more affluent neighbouring emirate Abu Dhabi’s financial bailout of its debt-ridden cousin Dubai. (For further explanation, see this piece by Dubai’s Financial Times writer Simeon Kerr).

While there were the usual expressions of cynicism from Dubai’s many critics (some very witty), I was drawn more to tweets by Emirati and expat tweeps for their raw emotion and passionate expressions of elation and pride. As the messages streamed in at a rapid pace by tweeps determined to see the symbolic structure become a trending topic on Twitter, I have to admit I got a tad emotional and wished I was there with friends. You see, although I’m Australian I moved with husband Terence to the UAE in 1998 to work, and while we’re permanently on the road now, the country is still our base. I’ve lived there a quarter of my life and feel more home there than in Australia where I have to admit I feel, well, um… foreign. So when twitter pal and Matador editor Julie Schwietert (@collazoprojects) tweeted: “You know what I don’t care about? The Burj, that’s what.” I felt compelled to respond. Not criticize. Just explain that “The people who care about the Burj are the people who live there & love the place, and for whom it’s symbolic of so much…” (and, cause I needed more characters) “…which is why I care about it; I think we must feel the way Aussies felt when the Opera House or Harbour Bridge opened.” Because that’s what I’d been thinking as I half-watched the tweeps coming in that evening.

As I read tweets about workers injured during the construction of Burj Dubai, I recalled reading many years earlier in a popular culture class at uni about the many men who had died, were injured or went deaf while working on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, an initiative that created a phenomenal debt that wasn’t paid off until the 1980s. I also remembered old black and white photos I’d seen of the opening ceremony, presided over by the state premier, with a 21-gun salute, Air Force fly-past, marching bands and decorated floats, all considered very extravagant during times of depression. Sydney’s bridge is now a major tourist attraction, the Bridge Climb considered a must-do activity for visitors, and a place of celebration, with Sydneysiders streaming over it for its anniversaries and other significant events. The bridge is the centrepiece for every New Year’s Eve fireworks, when the country anxiously waits to see (after weeks of speculation) what illuminated symbol will appear on the structure following the dazzling display – it was a disco ball one year, a dove of peace another.

But, more than anything, like the Sydney Opera House and other great iconic monuments, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a source of immense national pride. Its completion not only united the city when it connected Sydney’s northern and southern shores in 1932, but it also united a nation during very challenging times. I suspect Burj Khalifa has done the same.

P.S.my tweets motivated this lovely post from Julie on Matador: How Twitter Helped Me Care About the Burj.


About the Author:

Lara Dunston is a Cambodia based Travel & Food Writer and has regular gigs with: The Guardian, CNN, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, The Independent, Telegraph, National Geographic Traveler / Traveller, Get Lost, Wanderlust, Travel+Leisure SEA, DestinAsian, AFAR. Read more here.


  1. ronaldwidha.net January 7, 2010 at 12:46 PM - Reply

    Excellent write up.
    I must say, what drew me to watch the grand opening was the fact that it'll be a good spectacle, especially for my photography.

    But looking the thousands and thousands of other people around me, cheering and clapping as soon as we saw the first glimpse of the firework, it really moved me. It feels like I'm a part of this city.

  2. Lisa Bergren January 8, 2010 at 9:12 AM - Reply

    Buildings such as this are a marvel, a source of collected, cultural pride–and for good reason. As you note, not only is it amazing on an engineering scale, it's a monument of major sacrifice–physical and mental work–and at times, even costing workers' lives. There are many others like it–the pyramids at Giza, or even closer to me and my birthplace, the Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. Head to Top of the Rock in NYC, and you get a feel for what it would've been like to walk teeny tiny metal bands a bazillion stories up (without safety ropes/ladders). Climb to the top of the duomo in Florence and you wonder how they ever had the guts to try it at all…

    We cheer these projects on because we need to see that we are stronger than we think, and more capable than we believe. Buildings and structures like this attest to progress and capacity and imagination and determination.

    But I think it can also be wearisome. How high will we try and build the staircase to heaven? What does it matter, in the grand scheme of things, who has the biggest building? In the day to day, isn't the most important thing how we conduct ourselves, how we treat others, and honor life itself rather than monuments?

    Balance, in all things, is key. And that's why I think we hear both the groans and the applause about this newest, highest tower on our planet.

  3. AdventureRob January 9, 2010 at 1:55 PM - Reply

    Wow, you've covered the feelings well on the pride a structure can bring a nation. I'm in Sydney at the moment and the harbour bridge impressed me big time, I'm sure the Burj would do the same when I find myself in Dubai.

  4. Oussama January 10, 2010 at 5:17 PM - Reply

    Great blog, you have captured the true emotions of the residents of Dubai and the UAE, both Emaraties and expats who consider the country their home. The name change should be viewed as a unifying gesture and not only a thank you as most cynics claim

  5. Erica January 10, 2010 at 6:36 PM - Reply

    I like how you compare Burj Dubai.. I mean Burj Khalifa (haven't gotten used to the name yet) with Sydney Harbour Bridge. And I fully believe that tourists will flock to the building just as they do to Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

  6. Lara Dunston January 11, 2010 at 7:29 AM - Reply

    Hi Ronald

    Thanks! I was moved by reading the tweets, so I can imagine the mood there in person!

    Hi Lisa

    Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking response. Totally agree with you that how we treat each other as human beings is more important than buildings. Ironically it might seem for some people perhaps, but I don't think I fully appreciated that until I moved to the UAE where for the Emiratis (and Arabs generally), family and friendship are everything, nobody is ever too busy to be there or do something for someone (one reason I left Australia), and once a friend you're a friend for life.

    Hospitality and generosity (along with storytelling, poetry, music/dance etc) are pillars of UAE culture and society, all intangible, which is why so many critics who don't see these things say Emiratis don't have a culture. I think this is why the Emiratis have been so keen to build these kinds of structures and other monuments, the things which the West measures the sophistication of a civilization, and is another reason they are so proud of the Burj.

    BTW, I actually watched a brilliant doco last night on Florence which included a segment on the Duomo – the dome's construction was extraordinarily innovative for its time.

    Hello Oussama

    Thank you so much for the comment. Agree with you about the name change of course – packed with meaning. Thanks again!

    Hi Erica

    Totally agree with you! The dancing fountains on the 'lake' outside were already a major tourist attraction, and agree that the building and observation desk will be also.

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

  7. engineer January 12, 2010 at 7:22 PM - Reply

    Dubai Is Currently Facing Many Financial Crises, Burj Dubai will definetly help in maintaining dignity of the country . . .

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  15. Ryan January 27, 2010 at 10:56 PM - Reply

    I've been wanting to visit the UAE for a few years now. Now that the Burj Khalifa is completed it just makes me want to visit that much more.

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  17. robert browny January 28, 2010 at 4:31 PM - Reply

    I was looking for information about dubai on internet and i found this one really useful in google search result.

    Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in whole world .and architecture of this building impress me a lot .

  18. Roger February 3, 2010 at 5:46 PM - Reply

    A spectacular and awesome building in my opinion. Its height screams, "A challenge for all you out there."

  19. Robinson February 15, 2010 at 1:27 PM - Reply

    I love Dubai I stayed in the Madinat Jumeirah . We went exploring, partying, swimming, all sorts and boating. I loved it. The rooms were really lovely and cold but just the time you go to balcony you can feel heat comparatively . Outside my room I after seeing the beach often i wish I would be there. i enjoyed lot there.

  20. Tony londra March 2, 2010 at 4:05 PM - Reply

    Dubai is very nice country and I love it. Burj Khalifa is very tallest building and I tell all my friends to this building.

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