The Burj al Arab Hotel is a building designed to exceed others. Sited on a triangular man-made island (and placed so its shadow is not cast on the beach), the “Tower of the Arabs” stands 321 meters tall and was at the time of its completion (1999) the world’s tallest hotel. (It’s since been surpassed by the JW Marriott Dubai). It has 28 double-storey floors – that is, floors with 7-meter ceilings – and boasts elevators that travel at 7 meters per second. It is also said to be the world’s most expensive hotel to occupy. A one bedroom suite books for about $3000 per night, for example. The operator, Jumeirah International, boastfully refers to it as a “7-star hotel.”
But the defining architectural element of the Burj al Arab is the billowing façade that faces the city, a flexible composite fabric of glass fiber and PTFE (i.e. Teflon). It is designed to recall the sail of a dhow, a traditional fishing vessel that is an important part of local tradition from the days when fishing, not oil, was a dominant economic factor. (Some sources also say it is designed to resemble a modern yacht sail.) It does, indeed, give a startling first-glance impression that the building is sailing onto the beach.
At the time of its construction, the 15,000 m2, 200-meter tall membrane was probably the largest vertical fabric façade in the world. It is made of two skins with a 500mm gap between them, and is pre-tensioned over a series of trussed arches. It covers an atrium that stretches the full height of the accommodation floors, reducing solar gain in the atrium and providing diffused daylighting. At night, it is used a projection screen for an enormous lighting display.
Images from Jumeirah International except as noted.