Burj Khalifa: Maintaining the World’s Tallest Building

What you will find in this text:

  1. A tall order: maintaining the Burj Khalifa
  2. The Burj Khalifa facilities
  3. What is expected from Burj Khalifa’s maintenance and facilities professionals?
  4. Lessons that maintenance and asset management at Burj Khalifa can provide 

Dubai, UAE. This swelteringly hot and glitzy city on the Persian Gulf is famous for its glistening waters, rolling sand dunes and, of course, a skyline unmatched anywhere else in the world.  

When it comes to skyscrapers, the jewel in Dubai’s crown is undoubtedly the Burj Khalifa, which became the tallest building and structure in the world when topped out in 2009, surpassing Taiwan’s Taipei 101. With a total height of 829.8m (2,722 feet, or just over half a mile), the Burj Khalifa is a remarkable feat of engineering that was completed in only five years.  

However, the Burj’s story does not end there. Keep reading to find out how this extraordinary building is maintained on a day-to-day basis; there is much to be learned from the operations needed to maintain such a unique and challenging building.  

But first, some more history... 

How the Burj Khalifa came to be 

The story of the Burj Khalifa is intimately tied up with a whole project of development envisioned by the city, in order to transform Downtown Dubai. This included developments such as the Burj Khalifa lake and the Dubai Mall.  

Dubai skylineDubai Skyline

Projects like these were intended to attract international recognition and investment, as part of a shift away from Dubai’s oil-based economy towards an economy rooted in tourism and the services sector. The Burj Khalifa is now seen as a symbol of the success of this project and represents the identity the city has cultivated as a playground for the rich and famous. 

Named after the then president of the UAE, it was designed by a team led by Adrian Smith of the American engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merril – credited with building the Sears Tower in Chicago, previously the world’s tallest building. Its design draws inspiration from the Islamic architecture of the region (for instance, the Great Mosque of Samarra – itself once the biggest mosque in the world) and its Y-shaped floor design is based on Tower Palace III in Seoul, optimising space for hotels and residential apartments.  

This innovative design was complimented with an interesting use of materials, including: 

  • Steel that was recycled from the demolition of the former East German Parliament
  • 45,000 m3 of concrete - that’s the same weight of roughly 100,000 elephants;  
  • Glass covering more than 174,000 m2 in area. 

A tall order: maintaining the Burj Khalifa

All skyscrapers require an immense effort of engineering to pull off their construction. But let’s not forget that the life of a skyscraper does not end once construction is over... 

Perhaps what goes unnoticed is the vast amount of work that goes into maintaining a building such as this. Once completed, a building is not unlike a living organism, requiring constant care and maintenance in order to continue running effectively. And the tallest building in the world comes with its own unique complications... 

4 months, 36 abseilers and 18 tailor made buckets... 

That’s what it takes, for instance, to clean the façade of the world’s tallest building. And window-cleaning is just one example of the immense challenge required to keep the Burj Khalifa functional and immaculate.  

With more than 800 apartments and over 37 floors of offices, a dedicated team has to monitor and control facilities such as the elevators, air-conditioning as well as the world’s highest electrical substation – with the building consuming on average 160,000 kwh per day. In addition, the management have the not-so-pleasant task of having to dispose of the building’s waste, making use of a 1,300 m long system of waste chutes, with waste travelling down at around 194 km/h and compacted before being sent off to landfills.   

The Burj Khalifa facilities 

In its early planning the Burj Khalifa was intended to be entirely residential. However, now it houses plenty of other facilities, including: 

  • The 304-room Armani Hotel across 15 of its floors; 
  • The At.Mosphere restaurant and observation deck; 
  • A whole range of corporate offices and suites. 

57 elevators and 8 escalators help residents and visitors get around the building, with speeds of up to 10 m/s and a maximum capacity of 12 to 14 people. Outside there is also the Dubai fountain, the world’s largest choreographed fountain. All of these facilities provide a unique range of challenges for the professionals tasked with keeping the Burj Khalifa running.

What is expected from Burj Khalifa’s maintenance and facilities professionals?

Alongside the technological challenges that come with a building like the Burj Khalifa, its maintenance professionals also have to keep extremely high standards to match its image of luxury. The skyscraper is of course a home to many people, and welcomes hotel and restaurant guests who expect top quality service. 

The team run by Bashar Kassab, the Senior Director of facilities management, work round the clock to provide a consistent service to the Burj Khalifa's permanent residents and visitors. From a central desk, Kassab’s team coordinate the management of the building, keeping an eye on things like air-conditioning, plumbing and energy usage. 

This is a huge task with a whole range of maintenance tasks having to be coordinated. For instance, if we just take a look at one aspect like cleaning, we can see that: 

  • 300 workers are needed to clean the building’s interior;
  • 36 workers have to abseil down from the top to clean the outside; 
  • Each year, an area the size of Great Britain is cleaned. 

Kassab’s team have to manage and coordinate workers like these, from a centralised work station. Not only is the cleanliness of the building at stake – even aspects like the swaying of the building in the wind have to be monitored and managed.


Lessons that maintenance and asset management at Burj Khalifa can provide

The sheer size and scale of a project like Burj Khalifa provides valuable insights to anyone interested in the maintenance and management of buildings, particularly skyscrapers 

So, what can we learn from the Burj Khalifa? 

There are three main takeaways to consider about maintenance and asset management at the Burj Khalifa: 

  1. Maintaining skyscrapers requires coordination: the team at Burj Khalifa have a huge task on their hands, and that’s why they’ve chosen to look at the bigger picture - monitoring everything to do with the maintenance of the building from one central desk. This allows them to keep track of everything at once and keep it all running smoothly - whether it be cleaning or plumbing.  
  2. Software and technology are your friends: coordination requires smart technology. That’s why teams like the one at Burj Khalifa use innovative systems such as maintenance management software. This software uses AI and machine learning to help facilities professionals do their jobs well. From a maintenance perspective, technology and innovation are key to the success of buildings like the Burj Khalifa. 
  3. Set your sights high (and your service even higher): the Burj Khalifa is a shining example of how luxury service is possible, even in the skies. Looking to the Burj Khalifa, maintenance professionals can be confident that impressive (and technologically demanding) buildings can still offer luxury service.  

Having taken a look behind the scenes of the world’s tallest building, it’s clear that maintaining it on a day-to-day basis is one tall order. Learn from the lessons of the Burj Khalifa team and improve your company's maintenance and asset management today!