The Burj Dubai as Storm Machine

In a recent article about Dubai—the world’s easiest architectural target, and a city whose only true believers were money launderers and U.S.-based green architecture blogs—Der Spiegel describes the soon-to-open Burj Dubai as “an impressive, supremely elegant edifice.”

[Image: The Burj Dubai, photographed by Karim Sahib for the Agence France Press].

Aside from that remark, however, the magazine is far from complimentary; it includes, for instance, a laundry list of dictatorial building projects around the world (which would encompass, by extension, the Burj Dubai):

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan had Astana, an entire city of monumental avenues, triumphal arches and pyramids built as his new capital, where marble contrasts with granite, buildings are topped by gigantic glass domes and, on the Bayterek Tower, every subject can place his or her hand in a golden imprint of the president’s hand.

In the Burmese jungle, dictatorial generals had an absurd new capital, Naypyidaw, or “Seat of the Kings,” conjured up out of nothing. Yamoussoukro, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire and a memorial to the country’s now-deceased first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, is even a step closer to the brink. The city is filled with grandiose buildings, but there are hardly any people to be seen. The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix is a piece of lunacy inspired by the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, but the African church is even bigger than St. Peter’s. Indeed, it is the world’s largest Catholic church.

From St. Petersburg to Macchu Picchu, the article lays out oblique evidence for an “excessive building of cities and towers” on behalf of people with political clout (and a halo of military protection).

But it is Der Spiegel‘s continued description of the Burj Dubai that deserves more attention here, in particular this reference to the tower’s meteorological variability:

The tower is so enormous that the air temperature at the top is up to 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than at the base. If anyone ever hit upon the idea of opening a door at the top and a door at the bottom, as well as the airlocks in between, a storm would rush through the air-conditioned building that would destroy most everything in its wake, except perhaps the heavy marble tiles in the luxury apartments. The phenomenon is called the “chimney effect.”

This takes on atmospherically intriguing possibilities when we read that, on June 6, 2007, “the weather service at the [Dubai] airport e-mailed” to the building’s construction director “a satellite image showing a cyclone that had developed over the Indian Ocean, the biggest storm ever recorded in the region, which was heading directly for the Strait of Hormuz. ‘That was the only day in five years,’ says Hinrichs [the construction director], ‘when we had to close the construction site.'”

But, someday, might one negate the other? The Burj Dubai becomes a James Bondian anti-cyclone device: you strategically open certain off-limits doors, with special keys and voice-recognition airlocks, and you park certain elevators at pressure-sensitive sites within their shafts, and soon you’re modifying wind-flow over whole minor continents.

A vertical Maginot Line, fluted to control—and even generate—inclement weather.

7 thoughts on “The Burj Dubai as Storm Machine”

  1. I don't know about weather control, but this certainly intrigues me as to the potential for building wind turbines deep within a building of this size (rather than on the exterior). From the situation described, it strikes me that the discrepancy in temperature would always be there – far more reliable than depending on winds if the turbines were sited outside.


  2. If there is enough of a pressure differential to cause the described building devastation due to the chimney effect, why not install one on purpose with a few wind turbines? Has this been done?

  3. Bill and anonymous, in Bjarke Ingels's studio this past semester at Columbia there was an interesting student proposal for a solar-tower combined with a high-rise hotel that used a rising column of artificially heated air at the building's core to power a series of internal wind turbines; these would then light the building (and possibly give back to the city if producing more than the building can use).

    Ironically, though, given my comment on Dubai, it was pitched for the city of Las Vegas… It's a great idea, though.

  4. They found the same with Eureka Tower in Melbourne. The pressure across the bottom fire doors was about 350Pa. Enough to blow a person out of the stairwell and that's only a 300m building.

    For the Burj Dubai I doubt you would ever have that problem as the air pressure would be so great that any blockwork walls would collapse under the horizontal force, hence diffusing the pressure.

    With regard to energy generation I've seen 'blue skin' buildings which have a double facade. The outer layer captures the solar heat the air between the outer and inner facades. The heat rises up the skin of the building to the roof where turbines can reclaim the energy. This is an awesome solution as it provides passive cooling to the occupants be blocking sunlight and as a byproduct generates energy. Pity about the cost of having two facades.

  5. Dubai has very little cause to worry about cyclones; Gonu was the first cyclone to enter the Gulf of Oman on record. "But, someday, might one negate the other?" Given that the cubic volume of Burj Dubai (generously 1.4 x10^6 m3) is more than 8 orders of magnitude (100 million times) smaller than the cubic volume of even a very small or midget cyclone, I'm guessing the cyclone would be dong most of the negation-—my understanding is that the Burj Dubai was tested for winds up to 55m/s or 125 mph, which should make it a decent bet to survive Cat1 cyclone at least.

    I hate to be the one to rain on interesting speculation, but bad science makes for bad science fiction. Put into scale, Burj Dubai compares to a cyclone with the proportionate volume of a mailing tube to a torado.

    @Geoff, given that a Solar Updraft Tower raises air temperatures by 30-35 K (54-63°F page3 pdf) maybe the mixed-use solution is a better fit for a climate and program that do not already require compulsatory AC?

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