In a city known for superlatives, you’ll find eye-popping architecture on every corner. From the world’s tallest tower and most luxurious hotel to space-age structures that defy gravity, discover 10 of the coolest works of architecture in Dubai.
Bigger Is Better: Burj Khalifa
The world’s tallest building, at a lofty 2,722 feet, Burj Khalifa has become synonymous with Dubai’s growth and grandeur. Since completion in 2010, this cloud-piercing structure has become the centerpiece of Dubai, housing the ultra-luxe Armani Hotel, residential units, restaurants and bars, as well as the At the Top Burj Khalifa SKY experience, taking visitors to the 148th floor for jaw-plummeting views of Dubai. The 160-story Burj Khalifa was designed by Chicago-based firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the winners of an invited design competition, and features a triple-lobed footprint inspired by the spider lily flower.
Sail Away: Burj Al Arab
Situated on a manmade island off Jumeirah Beach, the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab is one of Dubai’s most iconic sights. The third-tallest hotel on Earth, and frequently voted the world’s most luxurious, Burj Al Arab is home to 202 lavish suites, including the two-story Royal Suite that costs a cool $24,000 a night. The helipad on the 28th floor is a star in its own right: Tiger Woods famously teed off from the pad in 2004; Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played a game of tennis here in 2005; and David Coulthard performed donuts in a F1 racer in 2013. Burj Al Arab has also starred in Hollywood blockbusters, such as "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol," and "Syriana."
Do the Twist: Cayan Tower
At first glance, it appears that Cayan Tower in Dubai Marina is twisting up out of the ground like a giant futuristic beanstalk. This majestic helical design was achieved by rotating each floor 1.2 degrees clockwise, so that the 75-story tower twists a full 90 degrees. When it was completed in 2013, it became the world’s tallest residential tower, a feat that has since been superseded. Today, it remains one of the most eye-catching structures in Dubai Marina, offering views over docked super yachts and Jumeirah Beach from its 495 apartments.
Water Wonderland: Atlantis The Palm
Standing proud at the apex of the Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis The Palm is one of Dubai’s most popular resorts, combining a five-star hotel with high-end restaurants, the Lost Chambers Aquarium and Aquaventure water park. Opened in September 2008, this blush-pink behemoth was designed by Wimberly, Allison, Tong and Goo, and features 1,539 guest rooms spread over two wings. Connecting the wings is the Royal Bridge Suite, a $23,000-a-night retreat that’s played host to Kim Kardashian West and other stars with serious coin.
Read our complete guide to Atlantis The Palm.
Head-Turning Hotel: The Opus
The first and only foray into Dubai for the legendary late architect Zaha Hadid, The Opus balances the sharp lines of a glass cube with a curvaceous void at its heart. When it officially opens in September, this futuristic fantasy near the Burj Khalifa will house luxe residential properties, commercial zones, and a 93-room hotel from Spanish brand ME by Meliá, including 15 bars and restaurants. This daring design is a fitting legacy for Hadid, who was known as the “Queen of the Curve” and was the first female architect to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.
In the Picture: Dubai Frame
Nowhere in the world is the clash of old and new more apparent than Dubai. In the north of the city, Old Dubai is a maze of alleyways, lively souks and centuries-old fortresses. To the south, the Downtown Dubai skyline looks to have been plucked straight from the script for “Blade Runner.” Perfectly positioned between the two, the Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park captures that juxtaposition, presenting scenes of the “old” from one side, and the “new” from the other. Dubbed the largest picture frame in the world at 492-feet-high and 344-feet-wide, the gold structure opened in January 2018, offering visitors 360-degree views from the glass-bottomed bridge that spans the top of the frame.
High and Mighty: Gevora Hotel
Up until February 2018, Dubai’s JW Marriott Marquis laid claim to being the world’s tallest hotel. It’s a mantle that was snatched by Gevora Hotel in early 2018, when the 75-story hotel opened on Sheikh Zayed Road, in the financial and trade district. With a flashy gold façade and pyramid at its summit, the 1,168-foot tower is home to 528 guest rooms, five dining options, and an alfresco pool deck overlooking the city.
Green Scene: The Green Planet
At just four stories high, The Green Planet in City Walk may be less imposing than Dubai’s super-sights, but it gets our nod for its striking cylinder-inside-a-cube exterior, and the thriving rainforest within. The middle of the desert is one of the last places you’d expect to stroll through an Equatorial Rainforest, and yet architect Grout McTavish has achieved the impossible with this cutting-edge structure. The origami-inspired cube houses all the technology required to sustain the living rainforest in the central glass core, which is home to 3,000 species of tropical plants and animals.
High Five: Five Palm Jumeirah Dubai
The theme of transparency is at the heart of Five Palm Jumeirah Dubai, a brand-spanking new resort on the trunk of Palm Jumeirah. With interiors by Yabu Pushelberg and NAO Taniyama Associates and architecture by P&T Architects and Engineers, this glass-encased structure has been designed to maximise the postcard-worthy Arabian Gulf views. A giant glass-cubed foyer greets guests on arrival, with sinuous waves of wood curling up through the airy space. Beyond the arrival zone lies a 60-meter-long swimming pool, flanked by palm trees and eateries; upstairs you’ll find 468 guest rooms and The Penthouse, a spectacular open-air bar on the 16th floor.
Future Perfect: The Museum of the Future
With an expected opening date of October 2019, The Museum of the Future is rapidly taking shape in Downtown Dubai. Already dubbed one of the world’s most advanced buildings, this curvaceous structure by Killa Designs has taken inspiration from the construction techniques of the aviation industry, using joint-free stainless steel and fibreglass panels to create a smooth elliptical shape. Once complete, the eye-catching oval will be inscribed with Arabic calligraphy, and will act as an incubator for innovation.