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words Deen Sharp

This special section reviews current architectural

trends in Dubai. The generic glass and steel tower has become an icon of the architectural style of Dubai. In Dubai architecture is either enormous or gigantean, some architectural masterpieces but most architectural nightmares. Talk to an architect about Dubai and the most likely reaction you will get is disdain. Yet, murmurs of change are occurring, more and more projects are focusing on the context in which they are set in and trying to come to grips with how you build the modern in the desert. Islamic architectural heritage is now also seeping into many of the designs. Dubai is beginning to think not only in terms of speed, economic efficiency and becoming the biggest and the “best”. But increasingly those in Dubai are thinking about what there buildings say about them and about Dubai as a place. Architectural descriptions of major projects focus increasingly on the way the building interacts with its surroundings and the materials it uses. Dubai may finally be starting to grapple with the issue of being a modern city in the Arabian Desert.



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“Anyone who does not attempt to change the future will stay a captive of the past,” is a favourite proverb of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Yet, when thinking about the built environment in Dubai one cannot escape that much of the buildings are stuck in the recent past. Generic, even in their iconoclastic nature, air conditioned glass and steel boxes dominate almost all of Dubai. These monotonous buildings are seen as the accepted norms for the commercial built environment. By building what was deemed “new” and accepted instead of maybe what was considered the future. Despite efforts by such figures such as the Aga Khan to build an architectural environment that articulated the rich traditions of Islamic architecture and maybe a new way forward by creating a original architectural style the path chosen was the rapidly rising, the shiny the new. Something borrowed, not something new. Dubai’s built environment became and has become captive to buildings that were built for a different time and space. As Brian Ackley argues in his criticism of Dubai, “much of the city’s architecture seems to fall into the category of non-place. That is a building or a site that is so generalized – so much a product of a global trend – that it offers no local context and can disorient someone into thinking that they are in no place or in any place.” Architecture is captive in Dubai. The thinkers of Dubai have to some extent recognised this captive state and the dangers of copying already established architectural creations and patterns. It was recognised early on that a “world class city” cannot be one that replicates the type of urban environment that every other city contains. The constant struggle to find out how to create Dubai and make it a “world class” city is still being pursued. Mike Davis (one of Dubai’s harshest critics) stated that the desire to create a “world class” city led Dubai’s planners to interpret “world class” by meaning, “number one in The Guinness Book of Records. Thus Dubai is building the world’s largest theme park, the biggest mall, the highest building and the first sunken hotel among others.” Added to this was the drive to build icons, every project in Dubai had to be iconic. Through this constant building of icons and record breaking buildings Dubai found itself in an intriguing position of being what Rem Koolhaas has called the “anti-icon.” Koolhaas explained this to mean that “when everything looks so wildly different, it ends up looking all the same. They cancel each other out.” The ridiculing that has surrounded the built environment of Dubai has irked many of the upper tiers of Dubai. The cackles and up-turned noses surrounding the release of the ski slopes in the Emirates Mall, the office blocs shaped like iPods, carving a coastline into a map of the world, yet another tallest building in the world. All these

buildings seemed out of touch with the way architecture was moving. These were buildings of the recent past not the buildings of tomorrow. Buildings of tomorrow are concerned about the relationship between the building and the natural environment not about dominating and conquering the landscape in which it is situated. The days of being impressed by a ski slope in the desert have passed. The buildings of tomorrow are self sufficient and as sustainable as possible and Dubai is as far away as possible from this future. Khalid al-Malik, in The Times, stated that Dubai had been hurt by the criticism, “we don’t ignore the screams. We are working hard to change. We have one great advantage: we are a city of Bedouin nomads – we change direction in an instant.” The most noticeable change has been a movement from iconic buildings to iconic architects from monumental wastefulness to wanting to be energy conservationists. The record breaking buildings and gimmicks are still there of course because while maybe not being a hit with the intelligentsia the masses are coming to stare in awe at the biggest tower in the world or the sky scraper that twists and the ipod Tower. But accompanying this is now serious attention to how buildings are being constructed in Dubai and the UAE in general. The best in global architecture are now being given resource on a mass scale to build projects that are of course Dubaigantic in scale but also being more sensitive to their location. Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect and founder of OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), is one such architect that is being given the chance to open a new chapter in Dubai’s architectural history. Koolhaas designed, for Nakheel, a Waterfront City measuring 1310m x 1310m. If built the Waterfront City will place Dubai at the forefront of urban experimentation and mark a drastic change from current architectural practice. The plan attempts to rejuvenate the idea of the historical Arab architectural vernacular where privacy is embraced and public interaction is encouraged. A renewed sense of the generic will be the centre of the project with 25 identical blocks imbued with rows of towers differing in width and height only. The core of the development will be a square piece of city surrounded by water on all sides creating an icon out of simplistic rows of buildings. The Waterfront City articulates the future of architecture in Dubai: the monumental with the sensitivity of the micro, the global situated in the local, the iconic in the framework of the generic. Dubai has achieved the modern now it must find its own place and space in which to situate itself architecturally. The shift has now began where Dubai does not want to be a product of architectural history but a part of it. Dubai is starting to show signs that copying pyramids will no longer do and wanting to be the future will only do.


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Dubai Architecture Special
Head of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) Rem Koolhaas is attempting to stamp his mark on the UAE and the government appears to be keen to help him. Koolhaas, a Dutch architect and one of the founders of OMA, made his name through projects such as the Villa Dall’Ava in Paris, Casa da Música in Porto, Portugal and the Central China Television Headquarters Building in Beijing, China. Now Koolhaas has established himself as one of the top architects in the world.

Gateway Project
OMA is attempting to create a development that interacts with the desert landscape, a development that could only be built and is only suitable for a desert environment. The plan for the City in the Desert is for an area of 43km² to inhabit 150,000 people. The main elements of the city are concentration, density, synergy, simultaneity and critical mass. Externally the building will be clad in ceramics sourced from the local area of Ras al-Khaimah.


© Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)


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Jebel al-Jais Mountain Resort
A resort in Ras al-Khaimah (160km east of Dubai) set amongst the spectacular natural mountain landscape of the area. The idea of the project is that the development itself clings to and navigates around the mountain. The Villas become a part of the mountain as much as possible. The villas are repeated continuously for the full 10km stretch and the linear development means that the views are unencumbered.


© Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)

Waterfront City
A square Island measuring 1310m x 1310m will be surrounded by an artificial body of water created by the removal of existing ground and allowing the sea water to enter. The water surrounding the square city on all sides will create an icon out of the simplistic rows of buildings within the square plan. A renewed sense of the generic will be one of the main ideas and within the city 25 identical blocks of housing in rows of towers differing in width and height only will give a familiar but distinctive feel to the development. Mixed in with these generic rows of housing will also be two massive monolithic shapes an 82 storey spiralling cone, influenced apparently by the 9th Century Minaret at the Great Mosque of Samarra, and a 44 storey sphere that has already been nicknames the “Death Star” from the Star Wars films.


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Atkins has designed the architectural face of Dubai, for all the talk of iconic buildings only one has really managed to stand out, the seven star Hotel the Burj al-Arab. Atkins are pushing forward with increasingly ambitious projects in Dubai and there reputation in the UAE is growing with each project. Most recently Atkins won Architect of the Year and Young Architect of the Year at the Middle East Architecture Awards 2008 held at Cityscape. With an annual turnover of $2.5 billion Atkins is now one of the biggest engineering firms in the world.


DIFC Lighthouse

The DIFC Lighthouse is a 100 meter tower with three fully integrated large scale wind turbines to provide electricity for the tower. A focus has been put on improving the efficiency of the building and the aim is to reduce energy consumption by 65% and water consumption by 35% compared to current norms in Dubai. The Lighthouse tower aims to be a beacon in the upcoming Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC).

Trump International Hotel and Tower
Located in the man-made island off the west coast of Dubai will be the Trump international Hotel and Tower which aims to be one of the most prestigious and ambitious projects in the world. Atkins took over this project as the first proposal for the tower was rejected by Nakeel who is the partner with Trump in this project. Estimated to cost $600 million the tower will be in excess of 250 meters, have 62 stories and will be a mix use development. The towers are “split-linked” in that two separate towers are linked at the top to culminate in a glazed diamond pinnacle.

© atkins


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Jean Nouvel

Dubai Opera House


As one of the top architects in a generation, Jean Nouvel rarely disappoints. Nouvel has established himself as one of architecture’s top thinkers and was awarded the Pritzker Prize earlier this year to add to the many awards he has already collected. Nouvel has been responsible for many international projects including the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris and the Institut du Monde Arabe.
Dubai Opera House
“Its scale is such that we cannot confuse it with a vulgar hotel or an office building: it is proud, sure of its aura across the land,” Jean Nouvel explained regarding the ethos behind his proposal for an opera house in Dubai. The Opera house shows a breathtaking use of light. “Then, there is light. The lights of dawn and the dusk. There are views into the light, reflections, the play of materials that capture, that imprint the colors of the sky on the skin of the building. The impacts of the light and the shadows through the geometry, which is the essence of grand Arab architecture,” Nouvel muses. Understanding is something that Nouvel reaches out to and design this comprehension. The result is startling but was beaten in competition by an equally impressive design by Zaha Hadid.

© jean nouvel


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© david fisher

David Fisher

The Rotating Tower

Fisher is not a well known architect, in fact he admitted to not practicing architecture for quite a long time, but nevertheless he came up with the idea of a rotating tower and created the company Dynamic Architecture. Now Fisher’s Rotating Tower is about to become the newest iconic addition to the Dubai skyline. After the Dubai skyscraper plans have been given the go-ahead for Moscow to have its own Rotating Tower, with other cities around the globe enquiring about the Rotating Tower.
The Rotating Tower
The Rotating Tower 420meter structure will have 80 stories that will rotate constantly giving the building an ever changing shape. Each floor will rotate 360 degrees within 90 minutes and between each floor there will be a wind turbine that will provide power to the entire building. The skyscraper will be the first prefabricated tower ever, constructed in pieces in a factory in Italy and then assembled in Dubai. The total cost of the building is estimated at $700million and is due for completion in 2010. Flats in the tower will cost $4million to $40million.


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A-cero Joaquin Torres Architects

Wave Tower
A-cero is a young Spanish architectural firm founded in 1996 by architect Joaquín Torres Vérez. A-cero has been propelled into the limelight in the UAE with the release of the Wave Tower. In Spain A-cero have been acclaimed mainly for their luxury residential projects and have continued expanding their portfolio in designing for the luxury sector and recently also designed a Yacht. A-cero also has a big presence in the Dominican Republic.

Wave Tower
The Wave Tower is another iconic building to add to the list for Dubai, a highly elegant tower that was designed to have a “strong sculptural language.” The base of the tower is supposed to imitate the form of the waves in the Gulf Sea. The Wave Tower in Dubai attracted a lot of attention for A-cero due to the tower and the design of Madinat al-Arab winning first place in an international competition. Wave Tower will be 370 meters and 92 floors and will be a mixed use tower.


© a-cero


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TVS Dubai Towers
Founded in 1968, the American architecture firm Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates (TVS) has built a global reputation and portfolio. TVS established themselves mainly by building convention centres across the United States and now have offices in the US, Dubai and China. In Dubai, their biggest project currently is the iconic “Dubai Towers-Dubai”, as opposed to the Dubai Towers-Doha.

Dubai Towers-Dubai
The Dubai Towers-Dubai range from 54 to 97 floors and are choreographed to represent the movement of candlelight. The towers will be mix use with culture a central focus as the towers will contain a planetarium, museum, art centre, theatre and opera house. The towers will be among the first to undergo the Integrated Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) following international standards.


© tvs


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Nadim Karam & Atelier Hapsitus The Cloud
Atelier Hapsitus is the creation of Nadim Karam, which is a think tank for “the creation of an original urban design vocabulary.” A mixture of art, architecture, sculpture and urban toys, Beirut based, Nadim Karam has a large repertoire of skills that have been on display from Beirut to Tokyo.

The Cloud and Desert and the Arabian breeze
Of all the designs that are featured in this special section only one is for public use and this is The Cloud, the Desert and the Arabian breeze. This huge sculpture would hover 1,000 feet in the air atop of rain like stilts. According to Karam the sculpture was inspired by nomads whose lives are defined by their relation to sun, water and sand and whose travels are followed by the borderless movement of clouds. In collaboration with ARUP AGU (Advanced Geometry Unit) significant new creative technologies are being created to make the clouds a reality.


© nadim karam & atelier hapsitus

RUR Architects 0-14
RUR Architects principals are Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto. RUR is a New York based practice and Jesse Reiser currently teaches at Princeton University. Reiser+Umemoto gained considerable international attention within the field late last year when they were awarded first place honors during the international jury phase of the Shenzhen Airport Competition against Lord Norman Foster, Foreign Office Architects, Kisho Kurokowa, and Massimiliano Fuksas.

In Dubai, RUR are gaining lots of work as their 0-14 tower is gradually realized and their revolutionary design becomes reality. As of August 2008, the first eight floors and exterior shell of O-14 have been cast, revealing the beginnings of the perforated concrete shell exoskeleton which, when finished, will surround the building in a lace-like veil. O-14, a twenty-two storey tall commercial tower perched on a two-storey podium in the heart of Dubai’s Business Bay, comprises 300,000 square feet and will be located along the extension of Dubai Creek, occupying a prominent location on the waterfront esplanade.
© rur


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Dubai Next
Face of the 21st Century Culture
How do you create a culture out of 200 different nationalities that are constantly circulating in and out of the country? What is the culture of a place where locals account for only 20% of the population? Twenty years ago Dubai was nothing. Now Dubai is. But what is it exactly? For many Dubai is the place everyone loves to hate. It is said that Dubai is nothing but sand; a great mirage that will one day come hurtling down engulfing those that did not get out quick enough. You make money in Dubai and you get out. This is the culture of Dubai. The Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, at an Exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum this year, has attempted to wrestle away this image of Dubai from their detractors and present the city as the future of the world. “Nowhere else in the world is the radical transformation of what people think of nationalities, heritage and culture more evident than in Dubai”. The Dubai Culture & Arts Authority was set up in Spring of this year to “steer the creation of new cultural institutions, to reinforce cultural education, to establish an environment for artists and arts professionals and, first and foremost, to preserve heritage in the emirate.” Dubai Next: Face of the 21st Century Culture is one of the first exhibitions by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and is in line with the institutions ethos of trying to understand how this economically productive space has created a global society.


The curators of the exhibition Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect and head of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, and Palestinian curator Jack Persekian have successfully taken on the challenge of telling and creating for Dubai a new cultural narrative. Michael Schindhelm, the Director of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, explained that Koolhaas and Persekian have identified that “Dubai, free from precedents, must find in its own way a means to capture and galvanize its global population while also nurturing its own local traditions.” “Beyond the tourism Babel on which its current fame is based, Dubai is turning into a vast mosaic of (sub) cultures – a unique urban assembly of

the locals, the expats, the part-time, the traders, the workers, the rich, the poor, the serious, the frivolous,” Koolhaas announces in his introduction to the exhibition. Essentially the Dubai & Arts Authority and the government of Dubai want to push away the image that Dubai is an soulless and amoral money making machine. Dubai wants to show it has more than money. Dubai wants culture while also arguing that it already has it. As Koolhaas exclaims, “When many more established ‘civilizations’ are stuck in more confrontational modes, perhaps Dubai is discovering, after all, the unexpected plausibility of a truly global culture.”


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