Jebel Al Jais Mountain Resort
I know the project has been ‘out’ for some time now, but it kept haunting me for some reason, so here it is on Eikongraphia. I find it one of the most beautiful projects I have seen in a while; it is absolutely astonishing. For those not so familiar with the design; it is a concept design made by OMA/Rem Koolhaas for a leisure center in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah, part of the United Arab Emirates.
Beauty comes with convention. The project is cubic (modernist), white (modernist), has an abstract patterned skin (modernist), and has streets in the air (again modernist). Compared to the modernism of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, this modernism is much more sleek. In variation of the public opinion in the US on the War in Iraq - ‘The war on itself was not bad, it was just handled badly.’ – the thinking at OMA seems to be: ‘Modernism in itself was not bad, it was just handled badly.’
And that is not such bad thinking. For detached and social housing it proved a big failure, for offices and hotels on the other hand it was a huge success. Modernism needs to be handled right. In the Jebel Al Jais design though, OMA tries to stretch the modernist style back into the detached housing zone (see fourth image) making that part of the plan immediately look a bit odd. Our culture is strangely rigid.
Rem Koolhaas writes in ‘Al Manakh’ about the Dubai-condition that the themed, and gated resort is the only urban model that is left. This condition is here not critically put aside, but simply applied on the neighboring state: Ras Al Khaimah, a bit to the west of Dubai. The main asset of Ras Al Khaimah, OMA states, is its mountain-landscape. Future scenario: let’s theme the country as leisure park using these mountains.
And if there were an iconography used here within this resort it would be that of cubic crystals, found in mountains. I am not sure if they can be found in these mountains though.
When reading ‘Al Manakh’ it struck me that the abstract patterned facades of the Sixties’ Modernist architecture in the Gulf did not feel out of place. For me these façades relate to the traditional patterned screens that are such a strong feature in the architecture of that region. This design by OMA makes that bridge again between the Arab and Modernist screen-facades. It makes the design ‘fit’ in its context.
The most beautiful feature of the design is the tremendous contrast between the white cubic forms of the buildings and the dark three-dimensional forms of the mountains. This is modernism! Making an inhabitable place into very convenient place.
With this dramatic contrast, that obviously has a connection with the work of Superstudio in the seventies, the project is a wonderful example of the architecture that I try to describe on Eikongraphia in the decoding-recoding series. In celebration of nature, modernist architecture tends to retreat into the most abstract forms possible. It seems to work like a balance: the more form at one side (nature), the more abstract the other side (architecture) has to be. It also seems to work the other way around: in the abstract desert of Dubai (or Las Vegas) form, especially the vertical form, makes a welcome contrast. The proposal of OMA for an abstract (rotating) slab in the middle of Dubai only makes sense in between all the forms of the other buildings. In the middle of the desert it would just look poor. Only exclusivity makes value.
Click on the images for a larger view.
The project is added to the Architects page.