Above shows the final board submitted for the competition, showing the overall context, detail shots of the structure, and influences on the design.
The overall design direction followed two paths.  The first approach borrowed the Eiffel Tower layout, with larger gathering spaces at the base and an observation deck at the top.  The second approach treated the tower as a beacon or lighthouse - more symbol to be observed than participatory experience.
These early studies employ a variety of ideas that seemed promising - repeated elements that might evoke dragon scales, or pagodas, or lotus flower petals.  And also the idea that the tower could be a large wind turbine, with the elements acting as "sails"
More studies on the "wind turbine" idea.  These we done in Sketchup.
A study looking at the scale of the tower in context.  This view was rendered in Maxwell Render.
An alternate study, with a skeletal structure and uniform reflector "petals".  This was modeled in Sketchup and rendered in Modo.
I visited the Willis Tower in Chicago over the summer and was blown away by the glass bottomed observation platforms on the 103rd floor - 1,353 feet up. I pushed that idea further by creating long cantilevered spines of suspended glass that visitors could walk out on.  Initially, this was a 3 pointed star, echoed at the base with 6 points.
Here, I'm still torn between the wind turbine idea and the Eiffel Tower layout.  The "Coke bottle" design at right, while elegant, was too similar to another recently completed tower in China.  Plus it was still too generic - I felt the final design should look like it belonged at its site in China, not in Dubai.  The wind turbine schemes were more dynamic, but I was concerned with how to combine an observation deck and elevators in a structure that was rotating.
This next series of studies use a solid core for elevators and wrap the exterior in reflective panels. The observation deck is now a star with 8 points - 8 being a prominent lucky number. Seeing the strength in the lotus flower petals or dragon scale motif, I re-arranged the white reflector elements to reinforce that direction.  
The base mimics the observation deck, with a series of 8 sided levels used for restaurants, shopping, entertainment, meeting space, etc.
The influence of the Chinese lantern comes in at the base.
Close-ups of the upper observation deck showing the curvilinear glass and the floor which drops away toward the point of each cantilever.
Close-up of the base, showing the potential views out into the bay.
The final render from Maxwell, before the context work in Photoshop.
I still felt the "wind turbine" idea was compelling, so I entered both versions into the contest.  This version would still have the habitable decks at the base, but the upper portion would rotate in the wind, generating its own power to create a dazzling light show.

Both entries were awarded among the top submissions.  Details of the competition are still not public.  I'll add more information once it's available.

A special thanks to My Ly at WRT Architects for her cultural insights.
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