The Burj Dubai is by far the tallest building in the world, despite being unfinished. However, I find it difficult to grasp just how massive it is. A recent Gizmodo post came close to capturing its immense height (see the image below) but still, a true sense of scale is absent.
The trouble is that I have no concept of relative height when I'm looking at those images; yes, the tower looms over other buildings that I know deep down would be considered immense in their own right, but they might as well be townhouses. They provide no context because I have nothing tangible to compare them to. Meanwhile, silhouette comparisons such as this one convince me of the Burj Dubai's height, but do little to impress any grand sense of scale:
What I need is a comparison that marries the abstraction of the silhouette with the concrete grounding of the actual photos. Once again quoting Tom Lehrer, I have a modest example here...
Turning to Google Earth, I mocked up the views from two popular Manhattan observation decks - the Empire State Building and the Rock (that's Rockefeller Center for the non-30 Rock fans New Yorkers among you). Then, I raised the viewpoint to 2,690 feet - the height of the Burj Dubai's hypothetical observation deck. The result is an impossible view of Manhattan which instantly captures the building's enormous scale by putting its height in a familiar context. If you are unfamiliar with the New York cityscape, then these examples may be as abstract as the actual Dubai pictures are to me; however this is an experiment well worth repeating in your own urban backyard.
Note: Clicking the following images will launch an image gallery in a lightbox. The first image will show the view from an existing New York observation deck. Clicking the right side of that image will load the next image, which shows the same view from the top of the Burj Dubai. Click outside the lightbox to close it. Note that all the images below will load, so you can click through all five viewpoints without leaving the lightbox.
Note also: The effect is much more dramatic in Google Earth, which supplies smooth transitions between the viewpoints - like taking an elevator up the spire. But I'm having trouble embedding the 3D view here, so I hope these images suffice...
First up, the view from the ESB looking north toward Central Park. The real view is impressive but the Burj Dubai can practically see upstate:
Next, a similar view - the ESB looking northeast into midtown and across the East River. The Burj Dubai view makes the surrounding buildings look tiny:
Another view familiar to tourists - the ESB looking south toward the Financial District. From the Burj Dubai, you could see clear across New York Harbor and out into the Atlantic:
Turning now to the Rock, here's a similar view to the south, including the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building. The Burj Dubai towers over these New York giants:
Finally, here's another view north, this time from the Top of the Rock. The difference is unbelievable:
I hope that these visual comparisons give some greater meaning to how incredibly tall the Burj Dubai is by supplying a familiar context for its height. In a final push for perspective, we are all familiar with this iconic view of downtown Manhattan:
Typically, a helicopter would be used to capture an image from such height. But in this case - you guessed it - all you'd have to do is take the elevator. Yurtle the Turtle had nothing on this!