The Most Iconic Sail in the World – part 1

Tacky. Gaudy.  Showy.  Vegas-y.  Descriptions I’ve read about the interior of the Burj al Arab are like reading a thesaurus entry on the word tasteless.  Not exactly the types of things you’d expect to hear about “the world’s only 7 star hotel”  (yes, there are only 5 stars in the hotel rating standard, but somehow, the Burj al Arab has managed to create this new ranking, even though most people consider it hyperbole.)  But more about the interior later…

I see the exterior of this building pretty much every day.  The architectural design is generally applauded by critiques.  Architect Tom Wright was charged with creating a building that would become a symbolic statement for Dubai, something that when seen, would immediately make you think of Dubai, such as the Eiffel Tower and Paris.  Like many things in Dubai, superlatives are not lost on the Burj al Arab.  It was the tallest hotel when it was built and features the world’s tallest atrium.  Construction of this hotel succeeded in bringing complex engineering challenges to fruition.  It’s built on a man-made island and features an enormous Teflon coated woven glass fibre screen on one side of the atrium.  According to Tom Wright’s website the shape of the hotel was inspired by the “shape of a modern yacht sail to reflect Dubai′s seafaring heritage combined with a modern aspect moving forwards into the future.”  Visit the link for more interesting facts and figures about the architecture and artificial island. (There is a little icon of the Burj al Arab under the photos on his website.  Click it to view a presentation of “Creating the Burj al Arab”)

There has been considerable controversy over what seems to resemble a giant Christian cross on the building when viewing it from the water.  Some feel this was a sneaky and deliberate slap in the face to the UAE, a Muslim country, by the British architects.  However, Tom Wright counters this by stating:

“I am an agnostic and believe that one’s time on earth is all one gets. Live today as if it is your last because if it is tomorrow is too late! So to put the rumours to rest I can categorically state that the idea of designing the largest Christian cross in the world on the shores of Dubai never crossed my mind.″

If I lean over the rail of our balcony a bit and stretch my neck, I can see the Burj al Arab from my house.  It sits as a familiar companion on the beach where my family and I often go, serving as a backdrop when watching my kids play with their bulldozers in the sand.  It’s a convenient landmark that is often visible when you get disoriented on Dubai’s crazy streets, and my boys routinely point it out on the way to school.  It’s even helped us usher in the New Year as we toast champagne on our balcony and watch the fireworks that light up the sky around it. Seeing it definitely reminds me of my new home, and if Tom Wright’s goal was to create a building that would become synonymous with Dubai, for me, he succeeded.  What do you think of the Burj al Arab… do you like it?

Taken from the Madinat

My son couldn’t help himself and stripped down to his underwear to play in the water.

This was taken from the bridge/entrance. From this perspective, it reminds me of one of those inflatable, bottom-heavy, clown punching bags.

The helipad for the Burj al Arab was converted to a tennis court on which Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played. Photo via

Tiger Woods hit balls from the helipad too. Photo via

Burj al Arab

More on the interior next time.


About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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3 Responses to The Most Iconic Sail in the World – part 1

  1. I do like it! It’s certainly interesting and the photo where it’s in the background with your son standing in the water does make it look like a ship’s sail. The photo with the heli pad converted to a tennis court gave me a knot in my stomach though! Yikes…run a little to far backward and who knows where you’ll be!

  2. Diana says:

    That last pic looks like where you took me my last afternoon there last year…

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