The tallest freestanding structure on the planet, the Burj Khalifa, will open in Dubai in January, standing 2,717 feet above the desert. Designed by Adrian Smith, the tower is the centerpiece of a $20 billion development named Downtown Dubai, but it opens at an ominous time. The tower itself, known as the Burj Dubai, is re-named after Sheikh Khalifa al-Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates, who gives it the economic bailout necessary to complete it. Dubai is plagued with financial problems, and in October, only 825 of the 900 apartments are rented, overlooking a city where cranes hang motionless across the sky.
Meanwhile, a few months later in China, the new tallest tower in the world officially opens in Guangzhou, Guangdong. Designed by Information Based Architecture with Arup, the Canton Tower twists up 1,968.5 feet (beating out Toronto's CN Tower) into a hyperboloid (or double-ellipse) structure. An observation deck is planned for its rooftop. Meanwhile, Nanjing Greenland Financial Center and the International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong are also completed this year, meaning China secures the titles of the second and third tallest buildings in the world.
After years of speculation about the future of the Santiago Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire, which would rise 2,000 feet over Chicago's waterfront, a foreclosure suit threatens to end construction for good. If ever completed, it would be the tallest building in the United States, topping the neighboring Willis—formerly Sears—Tower in Chicago. But since 2008, the construction site (literally a huge hole in the ground) has been abandoned, symbolic of the nation's waning power in the skyscraper race.
It officially opened in late 2009, but 2010 sees the completion of the final phase of CityCenter in Las Vegas, a spiky, fantastical, starchitect-studded collaboration featuring hundreds of A-listers like Daniel Libeskind and Cesar Pelli. The $8.5 billion project is the largest privately funded development in U.S. history, and one of the largest LEED-certified projects in the world. Yet reviews slam the development for its faux-urban nature, and suffering Vegas hotels blame its 6,000 new rooms for glutting the market. In November, Norman Foster’s troubled and still uncompleted tower, the Harmon, is slated for demolition. Um, what does that do to the LEED ratings of the other buildings?
At the Shanghai World Expo this year, plenty of architects had a chance to flex their muscles while designing the various national pavilions. While the U.S. architecture was a dismal failure, there were otherstandouts from countries like Denmark, who featured a working bike track, equipped with bikes, that wound through the Bjarke Ingels-designed sculpture. But nothing tops Thomas Heatherwick's Seed Cathedral for the United Kingdom, a stunning tribute to biodiversity. More than 60,000 fiberoptic rods showcase specimens from Kew Gardens' Millennium Seedbank, which will hold 25 percent of the world’s plant species by 2020. Which makes it even more fitting that it was nicknamed "The Dandelion."
In October, official renderings are revealed for Park51, an Islamic community center that plans to occupy the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory in Lower Manhattan. Instead of the design by SOMA Architects, the media focuses on the fact that it's three blocks away from where the 9/11 attacks took place, inaccurately dubbing it the “Ground Zero mosque” (even though it's not a mosque, and there are already other mosques in the area). Although there's no explicit commentary about what the design means, the exteriors seem to evoke an Islamic star pattern while flooding the interiors with daylight.
Also in October, a family of five finally moves into what's widely regarded to be the first billion-dollar house, a private, 27-story tower in Mumbai that's built for India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani. Designed by Perkins+Will, the "house" has a health club with a gym and dance studio, swimming pools, a 50-seat cinema, three helicopter pads, a garage for 160 vehicles on the ground floors, and 600 full-time staffers to maintain the house, which is widely regarded to be the most expensive permanent residence in the world.
In December, after perhaps the most ambitious World Cup proposal in history, the tiny Middle Eastern country of Qatar wins its bid to host the 2022 games. Its radical plan to host millions of soccer fans in 130-degree heat include building 12 stadiums that will later be disassembled into 22 new stadiums for neighboring countries, and mysterious solar-powered air conditioners that will keep even open-air stadiums cool. Well, at least they’ve got 12 years to figure it out.