NJIT News Room

Looking for something?
Search Newsroom
RSS Feed

Life at 2,717 Feet: Engineering the World's Tallest Building

Speaking to an audience of civil engineers, architects, concrete specialists, and other height enthusiasts at a recent lecture on campus, Lawrence Novak, the lead structural engineer for the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, related the complex strategy that allowed him to shatter records in constructing the world’s tallest freestanding structure.

Assuring budding designers in the audience that “we can go taller,” Novak shared the thinking behind some of the tower’s principal design elements: creating a y-shaped floor plan to spread out the load; tapering the building to “confuse the wind,” thus minimizing its impact on the tower's movement; fitting the building with an electrically grounded mesh to protect it against lightning strikes. Noting its many sustainable elements, he described systems for taking in colder air at the building’s upper reaches to feed into the cooling system and recovering condensation to irrigate landscaping in the surrounding desert.

He drew gasps with dizzying images of ground dwellers taken from the top of a cloud-piercing building so tall that the question ‘What’s the weather like down there?’ is a real one, and chuckles with his tales of window-cleaning and other mundane tasks conducted at more than a half a mile from the earth’s surface.

A former associate partner with the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which designed the Burj Khalifa, Novak also took part in planning the 92-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago and the fantastically shaped Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. He is now the director of engineered buildings for the Portland Cement Association, an industry group, and also consults, writes and lectures on various aspects of structural engineering design.

As the inaugural speaker in a lecture series sponsored by the NJIT-based student chapter of the American Concrete Institute, he counseled the engineering design students in attendance to properly value the profession. “We touch millions of lives every day,” he said. Pointing to iconic structures such as the Burj Khalifa, he added, “We inject reality into the dream.” 

Going forward, the ACI student chapter plans to invite a prominent speaker each semester from the field of concrete management. For more information on the series, contact the group’s advisor, Mohamed Mahgoub, assistant professor of engineering technology and director for the Concrete Industry Management (CIM) program at mahgoub@njit.edu