Originally, the skyscraper was to be called 'Burj Dubai'. Like the eponymous building complex project, it was renamed Burj Khalifa at its inauguration on January 4, 2010, in honor of the Emir of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyane, President of the United Arab Emirates, after its US$10 billion refinancing of Dubai's projects, which had been hampered by the international financial crisis of 2008. The skyscraper was also to be 560 meters high, but following the announcement of competing higher projects, Emaar demanded that his project be redesigned to be the highest in the world.

The final version is 828 meters high and has 160 'habitable' floors. The tower's architecture and engineering were designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill of Chicago (SOM, see #Companies involved, below). Adrian Smith was the chief architect, and Bill Baker was the chief structural engineer.

The tower was initially designed as a residential building: the decision to use the top floors as office space was made late in the day. The tower was also designed as a residential building. 5 It has over 160 floors of apartments, office floors, and a luxury hotel from the newly formed 'Armani hotels' chain, a joint venture between Giorgio Armani S.p.A. of Milan and Emaar Hotels & Resorts LLC, a subsidiary of the developer Emaar Properties. The hotel will include 175 rooms and suites, five restaurants, and a spa in an area of 40,000 m2.

The Burj Khalifa project's total budget amounts to about 1.5 billion US dollars, or about 1 billion Euros, compared to the overall urban development complex's total budget, which peaks at about 20 billion US dollars.

The tower can accommodate up to 35,000 people. For a surface area of 517,240 m2 (or 0.517 24 km2 ), this gives a population density of 67,667 inhabitants/km2.

This should be exceeded by 200 meters by the Jeddah Tower (formerly Kingdom Tower) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, around 2025. Indeed, this tower should slightly exceed one kilometer in height. This will make it the highest in the world.

The tower is not only the highest in the world, but it also holds other records: the highest number of floors, the highest occupied floor, the highest elevator in the world, etc.