‘Get ready to enter the history books’, the sign reads.

Of all the implausible scenarios regarding the likely source of the fifteen minutes of fame owed to me by life ever since the day I reluctantly accepted that I would become neither rock star nor professional footballer, this has to be the most left field of all: going down in history as the first person to have his lower intestine, bladder and stomach force their way upwards and out into the evening air via my unsuspecting and open mouth was definitely not part of the plan, but this is exactly what appears to be happening to me.

As the world’s fastest elevator rushes me up to the 124th floor at a speed of 18m/s, my ears pop once, twice, three times in quick succession but my guts stay put, thankfully. In less than a minute, my temporary co-astronauts and I have reached the outside viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai at an altitude of 452m. Although this is the tallest building in the world, my initial feeling is that I have been cheated of 376m, for only residents of the corporate suites and executive penthouses have access to the upper reaches of this architectural behemoth that stands 828m tall. As I step onto the platform, however, I soon realise that there can be no better vantage point from which to survey the first city to have entered the 22nd century.

For there can be no doubt: this is the future. A dusky silhouette of extraordinary construction shapes and an ever-increasing random pattern of giant fairy lights dazzle as far as my stunned eyes can see in the fading evening light. It is truly breath-taking. Staring at the mesmerising sight before me, I very nearly forget that the building that I am halfway up is more than twice as tall as anything that stands within my field of vision. Incredibly, this city of just over two million inhabitants is home to 25 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings, all but 4 of which were only completed in the last three years. In comparison, the entire United States contribute a mere 22 to the list. Europe? Zero…

With each new addition trumping the aesthetic and structural excesses of the previous sprouting giant, this city has become a battleground for excitable, delusional and quite simply disbelieving architects given a blank cheque book and carte blanche to drop jaws. But whilst most of these spectacular skyscrapers would be considered icons of modern design in any European or North American city, there are a great many more that stand incomplete with empty crane cabins hovering hopefully overhead and alongside unjoined steel, glass and concrete. When the global housing market collapsed in 2008, the slow ripple of recession turned tidal wave in the overenthusiastic Emirati construction market, leading to the foreclosure of many dreams and the halting of many new follies mid-girder.

Nowhere is this more visible than at ground level. Where there ought to be parks, pedestrian walkways and office forecourts neatly filling in the space between the forest-like growth of shopping centres and tower blocks, there is nothing but dusty rubble and abandoned construction equipment. As the metro glides down Sheikh Zayed Freeway on its raised track, the scenery unfurling itself beneath me is more post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland than visionary city of the future. I half expect arab zombies to stumble into view, their rotting dishdashas blowing in the warm wind and revealing flaps of undead flesh tucked neatly inside diamante Gucci sandals…

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