Transnational mobilities of the tallest building: origins, mobilization and urban effects of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa

Davide Ponzini, Khaled Alawadi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The media and scholarly descriptions and understandings of the tallest building in the world, namely the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, generally, have been simplified. Either celebrating or condemning it, these explanations typically stress the unique technological solutions, the symbolic and political motivations or the financial risk and economic gamble. This manuscript documents the origins–in terms of both its generation as centrepiece of the large-scale development project called Downtown Dubai and the mobilization of antecedents of Dubai’s icon (including the Kuala Lumpur City Centre, the Samsung Tower Palace Three, Seoul). Drawing on secondary data and prior research materials, the paper analyses the mobilities of architectural, engineering and real estate experts and solutions, arguing that this urban spectacle worked at multiple scales, that multiple actors embraced it for different purposes: the government celebrating the nation and the city, the developer gaining a distinct landmark in a massive development to market it internationally, enticing partners and regulators in subsequent transnational operations and the design experts testing unprecedented technological solutions. The conclusions concentrate on the diverse motivations behind this architectural piece and the importance of a place-based yet critical and multiscalar understanding of similar urban transformation processes and their uneven urban effects.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)141-159
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Planning Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • Burj Khalifa
  • Downtown Dubai
  • dubai
  • skyscraper
  • spectacularization of contemporary architecture
  • transnational urbanism


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