From studying architecture to designing the Burj Khalifa, Central Park Tower, and many more

burj khalifa
Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building and is one of the most iconic buildings in Dubai. Source: Stringer/AFP

What comes to mind when you think about the world’s tallest building

Chances are, you would be familiar with Burj Khalifa — one of the most iconic buildings illuminating Dubai’s skyline

Soaring 828 metres above Dubai, the Burj Khalifa has redefined the limits for skyscraper construction. 

This project — helmed by Chicago-based architectural, urban planning and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) alongside architect Adrian Smith — broke eight records when it opened in 2010. 

Some records include the highest outdoor observation deck, the tallest service elevator, and the elevator with the longest travel distance in the world. 

What’s more, the Burj Khalifa surpassed the former tallest building in the world — Taipei 101.

But the world’s tallest building is more than just an iconic project. It is one of the greenest skyscrapers known to man. 

To understand the story of Burj Khalifa, let’s take a look at the mind behind this impressive engineering feat. 

Here’s a look at architect Adrian Smith’s education and the inspiration behind Burj Khalifa:

burj khalifa

Burj Khalifa is both the tallest building in the world as well as the greenest skyscraper known to man. Source: Olivier Morin/AFP

Adrian Smith, the creative brain behind Burj Khalifa 

Born in Chicago, Adrian Smith moved to Southern California with his family when he was four. 

A natural-born artist, Smith’s mother recognised his talent and encouraged him to study architecture — so he went to Texas A&M University to pursue a Bachelor of Architecture. 

Smith, however, did not graduate and started working at SOM for a few years.

He did end up finishing his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois Chicago under the College of Architecture and Arts.

His architecture career started as a Design Partner at SOM, where he would get promoted to Consulting Design Partner. 

In 2006, he founded his own company Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG), which focused on designing high-performance, energy-efficient and sustainable architecture on a global scale. 

Two years later, he co-founded the MEP firm of PositivEnergy Practice (PEP) under AS+GG. It specialises in the environmental engineering of high-performance, energy-efficient architecture.

Today, he has received more than 125 design awards and several Progressive Architecture Design Awards.

Smith’s designs are sensitive to each project’s physical environment, taking into consideration conditions such as location, climate, and social influences to achieve environmental sustainability.

Other famous buildings built with Smith’s vision include the Pearl River Tower, Central Park Tower, and Trump International Hotel and Tower. 

Inspiration behind Burj Khalifa


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Burj Khalifa by Emaar (@burjkhalifa)

The design for the Burj Khalifa combines local cultural influences with cutting-edge technology to achieve high performance in an extreme desert climate. 

One major inspiration is the geometries of the regional desert flower — Hymenocallis flower or Spider Lily. 

Plus, its eye-catching design serves a practical purpose. 

Like the Hymenocallis, the Burj Khalifa has an elegant and balanced design. As the tower increases in height, the ‘wings’ or ‘petals’ of the flower re-configure the shape of the building. This mechanism reduces wind and the elements’ impact on the building.

Given that many buildings around the globe are responsible for various environmental issues, Smith wanted the Burj Khalifa to be a building that embraces the green agenda and circular economy.

His solution? Solar panels. 

With this, they can heat more than 140,000 litres of water daily — saving the building around 3,200 kilowatts each day. 

It also has an irrigation system that collects condensation from the air conditioning, which provides 15 gallons of water a year. 

Some parts of the systems are incorporated into the building’s landscape and plants.