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Kalima Translation Project Releases “Skyscrapers: A History of the World’s Most Extraordinary Buildings” by Judith Dupré

In collaboration with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) and Emaar Properties, the Kalima Translation Project has released “Skyscrapers: A History of the World’s Most Extraordinary Buildings” by author and structural historian Judith Dupré, translated into Arabic by Ahmad Mahmoud and reviewed by Omar Saeed Al Ayubi.

 The translation of this book is part of a cooperative agreement between DCT Abu Dhabi and Emaar to promote the ‘We Support Culture’ initiative. This initiative aims to enhance the role of national companies and businesses in the writing, translation, and publishing sector, contribute to the development of book publishing and distribution, and have a positive impact on the cultural scene and reading communities in the UAE and Arab region.


Dupré wrote the book for people who are interested in why and how skyscrapers are built. She takes readers on a visual journey that explores the architecture, engineering, and cultural influence of skyscrapers as city icons and symbols of urbanisation. “Skyscrapers” documents the ultimate urban experience of the 21st century.

Tall buildings reflect booming urbanisation in many parts of the world, as people flock to cities seeking economic opportunities. Once an exclusively North American architectural and engineering expression, skyscrapers have sprung up around the globe. At one time, New York and Chicago had the most skyscrapers, but cities in the Far East and Middle East have taken the lead, constructing dozens of super-tall buildings in the past decade.

Dupré examines landmark skyscrapers that have pushed the art of high-rise building to new heights. She presents her selections in chronological order to show the skyscraper’s technical and stylistic evolution, from its early beginnings in Chicago in the 1880s to Manhattan’s lavish creations between World War I and World War II, which epitomised the building type’s “golden age”.

Chronicling the emergence of the international style, post-modernist approaches, and hybridisation of modernist, post-modernist and regional approaches, the book also sheds light on structural, material and environmental advances.

Endless Dubai

The author cites the emirate of Dubai as a key example of how thoughtful urban development can create economic opportunities as well as a distinct sense of place. She describes Dubai as “a safe, friendly and tolerant haven that seeks to improve its infrastructure by building new airports, roads and metro systems in preparation for its further growth in the future”.

“Skyscrapers are built on the basic premise that high-quality architecture would attract businesses and tourists and make Dubai the Middle East’s financial and tourism hub. Dubai needed a symbol, so came the idea of Burj Khalifa, as the world’s tallest building. The strategy succeeded delivering the vision, making Dubai one of the most known cities around the world,” Dupré writes.

The author praises HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President & Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, calling him “a visionary leader”. He was the first to envision high-rise buildings, such as the Burj Al Arab, that would create a sense of wonder about Dubai. His strategy succeeded. The Burj Al Arab was followed by a two-mile marina in the desert, where water was brought from the Gulf to create dozens of new waterfront sites.

Burj Khalifa

On the book’s cover is a spectacular portrait of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa rising above the clouds, as the world’s tallest tower in 2012.

The Burj’s legendary height has inspired both awe and curiosity—about its structure and about Dubai itself as business and recreational destination. Emaar Properties collaborated with Samsung C&T from South Korea and Turner International Projects to construct it. The tower was designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), along with William F. Baker, SOM partner for structural and civil engineering, and George Efstathiou, SOM Managing partner.

According to Adrian Smith, the Burj’s graceful triangular shape was inspired by the triangular shape of desert flowers and the honeycomb ornamentation of traditional Islamic architecture. Built on a Y-shaped base, the tower’s mass decreases as it rises in a series of setbacks before culiminating in a spire.  The glass, aluminum and steel cladding incorporates stainless steel fins that deflect the force of wind at high altitudes.

Construction on the tower began in late 2003. The desert site presented structural challenges, requiring 32.8-foot (10 m) deep excavation through sand and brackish water. Most of the foundation is located in groundwater containing chlorides that can corrode steel as well as sulfate that could adversely impact concrete. Another challenge was the north wind, which creates seasonal sandstorms.

Author Dupré is a design consultant and structural historian. A New York Times bestselling author, she has been described as “a scholar with a novelist’s eye” for her attention to detail and easy journalistic style. She has written many books on architecture, including “Bridges”, “Monuments” and, most recently, “One World Trade Center: Biography of the Building”. She is a graduate of Brown University and Yale University, and she advises on large-scale infrastructure projects and regularly appears on national television and radio programmes as a commentator on the built environment.

Translator Ahmad Mahmoud is a member of Egypt’s Syndicate of Journalists, the Writers’ Union of Egypt, and the Translation Committee of the Supreme Council for Culture. He holds a BA in English Literature and a Postgraduate Diploma in Translation Studies from Cairo University. He is currently the head of the Department of Translation at Shorouk Daily Newspaper in Cairo. He won the Mohammed Badran Prize for his translation of the book, “Silk Road”. Other books that he has translated include: “People in Upper Egypt”, “Mac World”, “Anatomy of a Civilization”, “Sons of Modern Pharaohs”, “Egypt: The Origin of the Tree”, “The Age of Turbulence”, “Happy Married Life”, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, “Historical Records of Ancient Egypt”, “When Worlds Collide”, “Trade in Classical Old Times”, “Struggle on Africa’s oil”, and “Contemporary Global Economy”.

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