Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai)

Burj Khalifa was to be the tallest structure ever built and the centerpiece of a 500-acre, $20 billion mixed-use development in Dubai. Working with the developer Emaar, we positioned the tower as a luxurious destination brand for the Middle East region. Our holistic branding program included a brand identity and identity system including digital applications, and branded environments—a multimedia, multisensory showpiece sales center.



Real estate

Branded environments
Identity & design

Superlatives never last.

Brands that rely solely on being the biggest, fastest, or newest are quickly forgotten after their inevitable migration to second place. The only way for a brand to avoid this is to transcend history—by becoming an icon. That was the challenge we put before Emaar Properties.

Our client was planning the Burj Dubai-the tallest structure ever built and the centerpiece of a 500-acre, $20 billion mixed-use development called Downtown Dubai. As radical as it was to build on this scale, our client knew that its tower would eventually be surpassed. Landor proposed building something that would not—the Burj Dubai brand.

There have been a handful of buildings that were once the world’s tallest and were later eclipsed in height but not in fame—the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, and closer to our client's home, the Great Pyramid of Giza. With those intimidating icons as benchmarks, Landor began strategic planning.

Even before the foundation was poured, an auction was scheduled for apartments that would one day fill the tower. With nothing tangible to show bidders, the auction became a test of one of Walter Landor’s guiding principles: “Products are made in the factory, but brands are made in the mind.” At this point, the “product” didn’t exist. So we invited prospective bidders to experience the brand.

We fashioned a multisensory presentation center, wrote books and designed websites, had invitations etched, fragrances concocted, and parties thrown. A blazing Dubai sun finally rose on the first day for apartment bids.

There was no second day. In less than 24 hours, every apartment-to-be was spoken for, netting more than half a billion dollars. Even by the heady standards of the region, the branding of the Burj Dubai was off to an exceptional start.

Strategy: Aiming higher

Working closely with Emaar, we soon saw that the Burj Dubai had the potential to be the centerpiece not just of Dubai, but of the entire region. It could showcase a Middle East often overlooked by the world media—a place that is dynamic, prosperous, and a center of global cooperation. Researching this idea led to the key insight that drove all our creative work:

This brand was not about constructing the world’s highest building. It was about achieving the world’s highest aspirations.

In a word, the Burj Dubai brand was about preeminence. Not just in terms of luxury-though it aimed to set new standards there—but in terms of design, craftsmanship, and international teamwork. As our branding work progressed, building the tallest structure in history became almost an afterthought, one more manifestation of the driving force behind the brand.

Scope: The Burj Dubai experience

Landor was chosen in part because of our success with comprehensive branding programs. Even so, the scope of this project presented novel challenges.

The sheer range of applications required in a very short time was daunting. So was the requirement for an identity system that could work at almost any scale and with any media. It had to communicate the brand idea instantly on building fronts, signs, vehicles, ads, and uniforms, and appear equally elegant whether on hand-delivered event invitations or on hard hats at the construction site. Web presentation and other digital media had to be groundbreaking yet refined. The sales center and print materials needed to stand apart from anything the oversaturated Dubai market had yet witnessed.

Above all, it was essential that the superhuman scale of this project still communicate on human terms. For prospective visitors, workers, residents, and a growing worldwide audience, all the various pieces needed to come together as a single, differentiating Burj Dubai experience.

Identity: Uniting a complex brand

Landor created a minimalist wordmark to serve as the brand identity: two thin juxtaposed lines meeting near one corner of the identity. At the most basic level, the spare drawing represents the vertical tower rising above Dubai's broad coastal plain. As the tower grows and eventually dwarfs all other buildings around it, this symbol will take on its full significance.

The brand identity stands for nothing less than a new set of coordinates on the globe, a new standard and orientation not just for Dubai, but for the Middle East. Metaphorically, the two lines redraw local longitude and latitude, establishing a new Greenwich or a contemporary point of reference for understanding this part of the world. Launch materials put it this way: “Throughout history, only a few structures have had the power to change history. And the horizon.”

This sophisticated linear approach was extended into a comprehensive design style to reinforce the brand’s concept of preeminence. The wordmark, typography, look and feel, voice and imagery, and even color palette reflect prestige. In contrast to the over-the-top golds and bright colors prevalent in other Dubai premier developments, Landor chose understated tones echoing the buildings’ finishes of stainless steel and aluminum and set them off with a sharp green accent inspired by the carpenters’ levels found in the hands of hundreds of architects, engineers, and craftspeople building the tower.

Immersive environment: Bringing visitors to their senses

To communicate life inside an as-yet-unbuilt icon, Landor was asked to create a showpiece sales center. Designing this environment posed many unusual challenges. Chief among them was how to use a two-story building to convey Sky Living—a new standard of international luxury that the Burj Dubai sought to define at a height as yet unattained by man-made structures.

Landor’s solution was to create a multisensory, multimedia journey, immersing visitors in an alluring brand experience. Black granite dominates the exterior and entrance, with sharp green architectural accents. After passing through a hushed, darkened entry, visitors come to a wonder wall-a towering display that places this project in a historical context with other icons.

Next, an elevator creates the sensation of lifting residents to their homes high above the city. The doors open to the future: a fully furnished apartment with panoramic renderings of the Dubai skyline in surrounding windows and a wall of sensual amenities. Then around a corner, visitors look up in surprise.

In front of them, in a double-height gallery, an 11-meter replica of the Burj Dubai tower literally pushes through the ceiling of the first floor. Viewers are invited to climb to the second level to get a full view of this dramatic display, bringing them discreetly to understated sales offices. In line with the project's exclusivity, the presentation center is open only by invitation.

Publications: Something to hold on to

Each visitor is given a large, flat case of burnished metal. Inside are twin brand presentations that look more like coffee-table books than standard launch brochures. One captures the feeling of life inside the tower. The other showcases the lavish amenities tenants can expect from living in the Burj Dubai. Key statements appear both in English, the project's mother tongue, and in flowing, custom-designed Arabic characters.

Measuring progress

No matter how ambitious or costly a project is, no branding program can succeed unless the brand behind it delivers on its promises. The Burj Dubai and its surrounding development are on track to surpass these requirements, aiming to be nothing less than the most prestigious square kilometer on the planet. Indeed, the project's branding, amenities, design, and services have already attracted landmark tenants, including the first-ever hotel and residences designed by Giorgio Armani.

Even as the tower is being constructed, the Burj Dubai brand already represents a formidable competitive advantage for Emaar Properties. Helped in part by the strength of this iconic brand, Emaar continues to achieve substantial profit and expansion, most recently reporting 25 percent revenue growth for 2007.

Long before opening day, the dusty framework of the partially finished tower climbed above all other buildings ever built. After a pause of many, many centuries, the claim to the world’s tallest structure is returning to the Middle East. It won’t be nearly as long before someone attempts a taller one—perhaps even in the same city. But before that happens, the Burj Dubai will have defined a new standard of global excellence and cooperation, and will have taken the concept of the total brand experience—in every sense—to new heights.

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