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About A Week: A Tall Disorder

Peter Hinchliffe is not impressed with the competition to build the world’s tallest builing.

Two weeks ago the Burj Dubai skyscraper became the tallest structure ever built.

On September 26 it reached a height of 2,257 ft, overtaking the previous record holder, the Warsaw Radio Mast Konstantynów, Poland.

Building work continues. The Burj Dubai will be completed next year at a predicted height of 2,684 ft.

Giorgio Armani will decorate the building’s interior. An Armani hotel will occupy the first 37 floors. From floor 45 to floor 108 there will be 700 private apartments, all bought within hours of being offered for sale.

There will be a swimming pool on the 78th. The building will have the world’s fastest elevators.

The Burj Dubai dwarfs the UK’s tallest freestanding structure, Emley Moor Tower, a TV transmitter, which I can see from the garden. Mind you, as a loyal Yorkshireman, I think the Tower is in a far more attractive setting than that of the giant of Dubai. It sits on a hill top, surrounded by green fields.

One of my near-neighbours at one time lived on a farm in the shadow of the Tower, which contains landing lights to warn off aircraft at night. The neighbour owned and piloted a helicopter. “No problem in finding my way home,’’ he said with a grin. “I’ve got the world’s best landing marker.’’

The present concrete tower is the third to have been built on the site. In 1956 a 443 ft steel tower was erected to broadcast Independent Television programmes to the Yorkshire area. This was replaced in 1964 by a 1,266 ft tubular steel mast secured by steel guy ropes. At the time it was one of the tallest structures in the world.

It’s cold up there on Emley Moor when winter comes. Don’t I know it! The cylindrical mast was regularly coated with ice. Ice weighed down the guy ropes. On March 19, 1969, an icy, windy day, the mast collapsed.

The noise of cascading metal was heard several miles away. Twisted sections of the mast were strewn across local lanes and fields. Some fell on a tiny Methodist church. Two church members, carrying out work inside it, were uninjured. One of them was a local councillor whose words I had often recorded when as a local newspaper reporter I covered meetings of Kirkburton Urban District Council.

Nobody was injured in the collapse, though for a time it was thought someone might be trapped beneath huge chunks of metal. Another of my neighbours who worked at a local garage went to the scene with lifting equipment to aid in a complete search beneath fallen chunks of metal. He keeps a small twisted piece of metal from the fallen mast as a memento of a dramatic day.

The current tapering structure was built with reinforced concrete. To reach the Tower Room 900ft up takes seven-minutes in a lift.

A year or two ago, while on holiday in Toronto, I rode in a lift to near the top of Canada’s “wonder of the world’’, the CN Tower.

For a number of years the CN reigned as the tallest structure at a height of 1,815 ft. It is an important telecommunications hub, as is Emley Moor Tower.

The CN Tower was built in 1976 as a symbol of the strength of Canadian industry. Around 2 million tourists visit the tower every year, though its role is strictly practical. People in the Toronto area receive some of the clearest TV pictures in North America.

If building work proceeds as scheduled the Burj Dubai will be completed by this time next year. The muscle and sweat going into its construction is provided by many thousands of migrant workers, many of them from India and Pakistan.

An article in The Guardian newspaper this week said that many of the labourers had been lured into a life of squalor and exploitation.

They live in labour camps in the blazing hot Arabian desert, hidden from the eyes of tourists, said the article.

A reporter asked one of the construction workers, who said he was earning around $120 a month, what his life was like.

“What life?’’ was the response. “We have no life here. We are prisoners. We wake up at five, arrive to work at seven and are back at the camp at nine in the evening, day in and day out."

The Burj Dubai may not enjoy the title of the world’s tallest building for many years. Plans were unveiled this month for a building that will be more than a kilometre high.

The Dubai developer Nakheel announced that the structure would be the centrepiece of an inner-city harbour planned as the emirate's unofficial capital.

Nakheel is the company which has created man-made islands in the shapes of a palm tree and the world in the waters offshore from Dubai.

The Nakheel Tower will have more than 200 floors.

In a world which is heating up because of the over-consumption of its raw materials, a world in which half its human inhabitants live at the poverty level, multi-billion dollar skyscrapers are incongruous.

Expensive show-off games of Our Skyscraper Is Bigger Than Your Skyscraper are not what we need.

Environmentalists could be excused for branding the Burj Dubai as the Unfair World Tower.

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