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Building the Hotel

The Burj al Arab
The Hotel Burj al Arab

After the island was built, workers began constructing the hotel. To make the building look like a billowing sail, Wright designed it as a triangle. In the right-angle corner of the triangle is the sail’s “mast.” It is a 1,050-foot (321 m) steel post.
Curving out from the mast are two steel supports. The mast and supports form the tower’s skeleton. The hotel’s 202 duplex (two-story) guest rooms line two sides of the triangle.

The outer walls of these sides are enclosed in tinted glass. This gives hotel guests wide views of the Persian Gulf. The third wall of the triangle faces the beach. The center of the triangle is an open area called an atrium. In many buildings, atriums are only two or three stories high. Burj al Arab’s atrium runs all the way to the top floor. At 597 feet (182 m), it is the tallest atrium in the world. The third wall has no rooms. Its towering stretch of empty wall emphasizes the height of the atrium. It also represents the billowing curve of the sail. The third wall gave Wright a design challenge and a chance to create a completely unique feature. If Wright used glass to cover the wall, the sun would beat down on the atrium all day.

The atrium in Burj al Arab
Wall of the Burj al Arab tower

If he used concrete, it would take away from the effect of a curving sail. Wright’s solution was to cover the third wall with two layers of white fiberglass cloth coated in Teflon. Fiberglass is a flexible fabric strengthened by tiny bits of glass. Teflon is a plasticlike coating. The fabric lets in light while keeping out glare. The Teflon prevents dirt and sand from sticking to the wall. The fiberglass wall is supported by truss beams that form two huge Xs, one stacked on top of the other. The supports were built off-site and carried to the island on special trucks. It took workers one whole day to lift the second X into place.

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