A mind-blowing palate cleanser to herald the opening of the tallest man-made structure in history, which somehow embodies all of the worst mojo of the past decade. There’s a giant skyscraper (twice as tall as the Empire State Building), an Al Qaeda connection (albeit very tangential), and behind it all a country that had to be bailed out after it was ruined by massive debt and recession. What could go wrong?

A lot, actually:

The summit, they say, where the residential floors are only eight metres across, is as secure as a knitting needle set in concrete. Indeed, Burj Khalifa dispenses with a pendulum-like mass-damper, which some supertalls use to moderate incidental movements.

Yet three years ago there were reports that concrete floor slabs had already cracked after suffering significant deflections. New Civil Engineer reported that carbon-fibre was urgently being used in remedial attempts to strengthen the floors. An expert told the same journal “things have to be pretty bad” before you start repairing a half-built building…

There are other daunting technological and practical problems with such a building. Aerospace engineers will imagine the most horrible thing that could possibly happen to a wing and then design it to withstand several times as much force. But aerospace engineers are working in an older technological tradition than designers of supertall buildings: certainly, the tapering profile of Burj Khalifa helps diminish the effect of the wind, but variables and unknown unknowns remain. We have only small knowledge of how such an extreme structure responds to wind-induced dynamic torque…

Paradoxically, Burj Khalifa is not a truly modern building. It is a hangover of a demented spending binge. It is a subprime Great Pyramid. It is queasy nostalgia for a version of the future that looked old-fashioned a generation ago. It is kitsch retro fantasia, a glassy memorial to something not so much forgotten as never known.

Let’s not even mention the F-word; it’s hard enough as a New Yorker to gape at a building like this without your mind wandering. They sure did launch it in a fashion befitting its stature, though. Two clips for you here, each of them amazing.