Pics: Burj Khalifa’s Spectacular Debut

The Burj Dubai towers in the Middle East, but a Midwest man designed it.

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AFP/Getty Images
Dubai's Burj Khalifa tower, the world's tallest skyscraper, is lit by laser lights during its opening ceremony in the Gulf emirate on January 4, 2010. Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, officially opened the world's tallest building, which stands at 828 metres high. AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI (Photo credit should read MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Dubai's Burj Khalifa tower, the world's tallest skyscraper, is lit by laser lights during its opening ceremony in the Gulf emirate on January 4, 2010. Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, officially opened the world's tallest building, which stands at 828 metres high. AFP PHOTO/KARIM SAHIB (Photo credit should read KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)
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At 818 meters, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest man-made structure ever built. It will officially open tomorrow, Jan. 4, 2010.
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Some of the more religiously inclined have likened it to the mythical Tower of Babylon, due to its extreme height -- more than half a mile straight up.
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In 2005, the Burj was just a very tall dream. But thanks to Dubai's bustling economy, investors weren't hard to find. Here, Giorgio Armani examines the model. Armani designed private residences in the tower, which sold for more than $3,500 per square foot.
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Wikipedia.org
The architect of the Burj Dubai is Adrian Smith, a native Chicagoan and 1960 graduate of the University of Illinois - Chicago.
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Eric Hinkle
If you think the Burj Dubai looks a bit like the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, you're right -- Smith designed that, too.
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By April 2006, work was well under way on the Burj Dubai, with 38 stories already completed.
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But behind the scenes, there was trouble. In 2006, migrant laborers protested harsh working conditions and pay disputes. Work continued 24 hours a day, and laborers usually worked 12-hour shifts.
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But despite worker complaints, construction continued. By December 2006, the building had risen to 86 stories. But that was only half way. The building was planned to be 162 stories.
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Pakistani and Indian expatriates made up the bulk of the work force. They were the manpower behind Dubai's rapid expansion as the world's boom economy reached its peak.
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By January 2009, the finishing touches were being put on the building's massive exterior. The building is heralded by its developers, Emaar Properties, as "The most prestigious square kilometer in the World"
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At the peak of the boom economy, there were about 200,000 construction projects going on in Dubai -- but only 80 government inspectors to make sure conditions were safe, and workers were treated fairly. Here, men labor on the Dubai Metro system.
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On average, Dubai construction workers, like this man, make $200 a month -- and that's when times are good.
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For the wealthy, the money flowed freely in Dubai, but when the world economy took a tumble in late 2008, Dubai's cash pool mostly dried up.
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The glamor of Dubai shines above its empoverished laborers. The Burj Al Arab, pictured here, is touted as the world's most luxurious hotel. It's built on a man-made island.
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Alachua County Sheriff's Office
Aerial view of the luxury Burj Al Arab (background) and Jumayra Beach hotels in the city of Dubai
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The Burj Al Arab has probably the most unique tennis court in the world -- a converted helipad 321 meters above the ground. Here, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer practice on it in February 2005.
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Dubai is becoming a magnet for all types of sports. On top of the Burj Dubai viewing area, U.S. golfter Michelle Wie posed before last month's Dubai Ladies Masters Tournament.
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Standing close to the Burj, it's almost impossible to see its top.
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The tower's staggering height makes it appear to stand alone in photographs.
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The Burj now dominates Dubai's young skyline. While the Burj made it to completion, not all projects will be so lucky. The Dubai economy, which enjoyed years of rapid growth, saw a sharp decline as world markets reacted to the global economic crisis.
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When seen with the other buildings around it, the Burj can look almost computer-generated, as if it's a mirage of the desert.
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In fact, the tower appears to fade away at times when the light and air conditions are just right.
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The Burj's 2,684 feet (818 m) dwarf the world's other tallest buildings.
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If the Burj were in New York, it would dominate the skyline. (Photo courtesy Kottke).
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Getty Images/Flickr RF
The other tallest buildings in the world include the 101-floor Taipei 101, at 509 m.
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Flickr photo by beltzner
The Shanghai World Financial Center (on the left) is No. 3 on the list, at 492 m. The Jin Mao Tower, on the right, is No. 10, at 421 m. Flickr photo by beltzner
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At 483 m, the International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong is the world's fourth-tallest building.
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The 88-story Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia are tied for Nos. 5, both 452 m tall.
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Flickr photo by damien_farrell
China's Nanjing Greenland Financial Center, at 450 m, is the world's seventh-tallest building. Flickr photo by damien_farrell
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Miami-Dade Police Department
Formerly the Sears Tower, Chicago's Willis Tower comes in at number 8, at 442 m tall.
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Flickr photo by Remko Tanis
And the Guangzhou West Tower, also in China, comes in at No. 9 on the list, at 440 m tall. Flickr photo by Remko Tanis
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Despite controversies over treatment of workers, and the tough world economy, the Burj Dubai is now the centerpiece of the Gulf region's most prestigious urban development -- and the world's tallest building by more than 300 meters.
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