Why there are plans to wrap the world’s tallest building in fabric

As if the world’s tallest building wasn’t already a fairly prevalent sight on Dubai’s landscape, a think tank has proposed draping the building in a reflective fabric to make it more noticeable.

The group, OP-EN (Of Possibilities Engaging Novelty), has proposed the fabric covering which it says would be suspended from a support structure on the top of the tower as a temporary installation. Its plans show the Burj Khalifa tower, in Dubai, which stands at 828-metres tall covered in a “reflective super-lightweight and semi-transparent fabric”.

The concept has been named Exo-Burji and in a post on OP-EN’s website it is described as: “In the spirit of exploring creative potential in the public realm, Exo-Burj aims to create a fluid urban ambience by suspending a reflective fabric material around the 828-metre tower, complementing the structure’s reflective facade.”

The skyscraper holds at least 18 records, including highest nightclub, and was officially opened in 2010 after a period of six years of construction. OP-EN describes itself as an interdisciplinary creative practice with a focus on art, design and architecture that tries to seek the unfamiliar.


The group visualises that the end result would increase the visual perspective of the city’s skyline as well as improving the tower’s symbol as an urban destination in the centre of the city. It also says it would create an artistic atmosphere on a vast architectural scale.

The proposed support structure to hold the fabric aloft is fan-shaped, circling the tower with the main point of connection coming from the spire of the building.

Visitors would be able to view the temporary installation from a distance – which would reflect the tower and its surroundings – but also walk up close to the fabric and experience it first-hand.

However if the – somewhat unlikely – project was to ever go ahead, the manufacturers would have to carefully look at the materials they use to create the covering as reflective buildings have caused serious problems elsewhere in the world.

In London, UK, an under-construction skyscraper’s curved shape caused heat from the sun to be bounced onto everything in its  shadow. This resulted in damage to nearby buildings and cars, and even resulted in one person frying an egg with the heat from the reflective rays.

Images courtesy of OP-EN.

Could this be the future of urban housing?

We’ve seen the future of urban housing, and it’s definitely modular. Dutch startup WOODstacker is developing wooden stackable buildings that are sustainable, quick to build and make for stylish but apparently affordable housing.

It’s no secret that our exploding population has led to a significant shortage in housing. The financial crisis had resulted in millions flocking to cities in search of work, and has left many living in less-than-ideal situations.

But while some solutions have been put forward, these are often entirely conceptual and rarely make their way into reality. WOODstacker, however, seems set to break the mould, having been selected for Amsterdam-based Rockstart’s Smart Energy Accelerator programme.

The brainchild of mechanical engineer Theo Bouwman and architect Jurrian Knijtijzer, WOODstacker units are rectangular in shape so that they can be easily slotted together to form larger structures. This makes them quick to build, meaning they could be vital in situations such as natural disasters where there is a sudden demand for new housing. “The 21st century is a fast and flexible time,” says WOODstacker managing partner Jurrian Knijtijzer. “We’re bring the normally slow and static real estate up to speed.”

The company says the units, which are built of wood and natural materials, are completely sustainable and very durable. It also reckons that the materials make WOODstacker healthier to live in than other modular, chemical-containing structures. And with increasing concerns about the health implications of airborne chemicals and nanoparticles, that could be a big selling point.

“We believe in [building] a cleaner and better world. The building industry is responsible for ¾ of the material consumption and 40% of the energy usage,” says Knijtijzer. “With the use of ecological materials and state of the art technology we can change this.”

With so many young people living in cities, WOODstacker could be ideal as urban housing for the under 35s. Two modules put together would create a 45m² one-bedroom apartment with a separate lounge and kitchen diner; a level of luxury that is rare for many city dwellers.


The wooden design also has some aesthetic benefits that could make for attractive affordable housing. With a wooden finish there is no need for carpet, paint or wallpaper, so a WOODstacker apartment could be very cheap to decorate.

It’s not just housing that WOODstacker could be used for; the company thinks they would be perfect for everything from hotels or holiday homes to healthcare or nursery units.

But of course all of this is reliant on the availability of appropriate land. Cities might be crying out for more affordable housing but space is still an issue. We reckon WOODstacker might be able to make use of empty spaces such as old multi-storey car parks and industrial sites, but this would only work for certain areas.  Until cities figure out a way to create more ground space, the appearance of solutions such as WOODstacker will be patchy at best.

Images courtesy of WOODstacker.