To me just another monument of architecture and mankind, a phallus of technology, thought to be sophistically engineered…
You’d think that the world’s tallest building – a structure that requires amazingly complex engineering and technology to reach its heights – would have an equally impressive sewage system. Unfortunately, that’s not the case because it isn’t hooked up to a municipal wastewater treatment system – so when you poop in the Burj Khalifa, that waste is actually trucked out of the city. Trucked out of the city! We’re frankly flabbergasted by the inefficiency of such a system. One of the world’s most advanced buildings relies on an arcane method to transport wastewater to a treatment facility outside of town. So remember, if you happen to visit and use the Burj Khalifa’s restroom, some unfortunate person has to collect your poop and drive it out of Dubai.
In November, Terry Gross of NPR interviewed Kate Ascher, author of The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, where she explained what happens to sewage from the Burj Khalifa and other tall buildings in Dubai. There are a host of tall buildings in Dubai and many of them aren’t connected to a municipal sewage system. It seems that construction outpaced installation of such an important component of any multistory building – seemingly with the approval of the city planning department. There is some semblance of a system, but it doesn’t have the capacity to handle the output from an 828 meter tower.
In the interview, Ascher explained that “some [buildings] can access a municipal system but many of them actually use trucks to take the sewage out of individual buildings and then they wait on a queue to put it into a waste water treatment plant. So it’s a fairly primitive system.” Trucks often wait in line for up to 24 hours before they can offload their payload. As Gizmodo calculated, a full building with 35,000 people would produce 7 tons of poop per day, plus all the additional wastewater for showers, brushing your teeth and so on, totaling up to 15 tons per day of wastewater.
The inefficiency of such a system is mind-boggling and raises the issue of how architecture is more than just designing a great building. Architects must also consider the impact of their building on the rest of the city and how it will interact with it. It’s all fine and good to build the world’s tallest building, but if you have to remove the waste via inefficient and costly trucks, then you’ve failed.
If you read the quoted text carefully, you’ll have noticed that many – if not most – of Dubai’s buildings are not connected to the wastewater system. It would appear that diesel for trucks is cheaper than a wastewater system. You just wonder how long this will be going to work. Sustainability and resilience does certainly not seem to be high on the agenda.