Slated to become the world’s tallest skyscraper and symbol of a city given to grandiose projects, "Burj Dubai," or Dubai Tower, is rising in parallel with the profits of its promoter, Emaar Properties.
With two stories added every week, Burj Dubai is taking shape as the centerpiece of a 20-billion-dollar venture featuring the construction of a new district, "Downtown Burj Dubai," that will house 30,000 apartments and the world’s largest shopping mall.
Launched in early 2004, the construction of the tower by South Korea‘s Samsung should be completed at the end of 2008 and cost one billion dollars, according to Greg Sang, the Emaar official in charge of Burj Dubai.
Burj Dubai already has 79 stories, taking its height to more than 200 meters (656 feet). But even after having gone that far, Emaar is still not revealing the tower’s final height.
"At the moment, we are not answering. We’ll say it (will be) more than 700 meters (2,296 feet) and more than 160 stories … The people who need to know, know," Sang, a 40-year-old New Zealander, told AFP.
The world’s tallest inhabited building is "Taipei 101" in Taiwan, which is 508 meters (1,666 feet) tall.
"At the moment, we’ve got around 2,500 workers on the tower site alone. We expect that to peak about a year from now at over 5,000 … And for the whole site … at any point in time, when the whole Downtown Burj Dubai district is under construction, there will be 20,000 men working here," Sang said.
Some 2,500 of these laborers hired by one of many firms working for Emaar downed tools for two days earlier this year and demonstrated in protest at poor working conditions and delays in the payment of salaries.
The protests degenerated into riots during which equipment and cars were smashed.
According to Sang, the protesting laborers did not work on the tower site and construction was therefore not affected.
"We actually work very closely with the contractors and with the authorities to ensure conditions for the labor are adequate and good. So we were a little disappointed that they weren’t completely satisfied," Sang said.
He said the average wages of the south Asian laborers, who work in summer in temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), are "probably in the range of a couple of hundred US dollars a month" for a shift of "eight to 10 hours" a day, six days a week.
"They can get overtime if they like," Sang said.
But he stressed that it is the contractor, not Emaar, "who employs the workers, and it’s his responsibility to provide them with accommodation and pay the salaries on time."
Emaar, which is listed on the Dubai stock exchange and boasts of being the world’s largest property company by capital, is setting great store by this flagship project.
The figures bear out its confidence. Emaar, in which the Dubai government has a 32.5 percent stake, is seeing its profits climb.
The real estate giant posted record net profits of 437 million dollars in the third quarter of this year, a 39 percent increase on the same period in 2005. It posted a 21 percent hike in profits in the first half of 2006 compared to the first six months of last year.
Business cirles attribute the steady rise in profits to the sustained sales of apartments in Downtown Burj Dubai, a trend helped by a law allowing foreigners to become freehold property owners in certain areas of the Gulf city state which went into force this year.
"Certain buildings take on iconic status, like the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, instantly recognizable and instantly associated with the city that they are placed in," Sang said.
"I hope the same happens with the Burj Dubai. It’s definitely going to be very unique," he said.
But Sang admitted that he did not expect Burj Dubai to remain the tallest building in the world forever.
For it will face competition in Dubai itself, where the city’s other property development major, Nakheel, has announced it will launch the construction of "Al-Burj" or "The Tower" — whose projected height also remains a closely guarded secret.