Dubai 1: The story so far

Nakheel - Plan Dubai, March 2007 (Copyright Nakheel)
Nakheel - Plan Dubai, March 2007 (Copyright Nakheel) (click-2-enlarge)

The nice thing with advertisements is that (a) you know it is an exaggeration, and (b) next year it will be different. Everything becomes relative. Like a play in the theatre. Just be free, and play along. In a world with only plausible truths left, as critic Michael Speaks repeats, bullshit can become a reality when it agreed to as something we can work with.

Dubai works. We could joke about a ‘Fata Morgana turned into a real Oasis’, but it never was a mirage. In contrast to utopia’s that were never built and were never updated to actually work in reality, Dubai as a plan is being constantly redesigned to keep working.

In the past year the plans for the second and third palm-islands have been quite rigorously changed. With the knowledge of the first palm, design intelligence has grown and consequently has altered the design of the subsequent islands.

The redesigns of the palm-islands motivate me to do a new series of posts about these projects. The just released ‘Al Manakh’ book on top of that has triggered me to rethink some aspects of Dubai, and also to write about projects that are noted in the book, but not so much discussed. Regard these new posts as an addition to the book.

For now I am planning a series of ten posts, starting with one that summarized bits and pieces I have written about the architecture in Dubai in the past.

The most ‘ancient’ posts I did about Dubai were concerned with the palm-islands and the world, all developed by the state-owned Nakheel:

- Palm Jumeirah
- Palm Jebel-Ali
- Palm Deira
- The World

The poem that is part of Palm Deira and which is being designed by a Dutch architect specialized in floating buildings and structures, has been discussed in a separate post.

Not state-owned, but quite dominant anyway, is the British engineering and design firm W.S. Atkins. On Eikongraphia there are three projects from Atkins present, all of them with a very distinct and non-traditional form, and therefore highly iconographical. There is a pupil, a ruler, and a sail:

- Iris Bay
- Chelsea
- Burj Al Arab

The only other architect discussed here was the very-vague Cybertecture that has proposed an apartment building somewhat resembling an iPod.

The development of Dubai seems to be one of those things that you either really like, or really dislike. Mike Davis resents it; Rem Koolhaas applauds it. And so on.

The fine thing about the seminar held on Dubai this spring at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam was that a representative of each side held a talk. Architect Kees Christiaanse discarded Dubai as a project of sameness, fakeness, gatedness, and maleness, while educator-architect George Katodrytis acted like he nonchalantly accepted all this as a reality.

- Dubai, White City (1/2)
- Dubai, Black City (2/2)

The argument of Katodrytis was ‘I know it is all same, fake, gated, and male, but it is amazing, and it works, so it is real.’ It is the reversal of the critical stance that says: ‘It is fake, and therefore should not be part of our reality.’ It is the main argument used against the appliance of iconography in architecture. And against rebuilding historic buildings.

The reversed critical stance is also used by Rem Koolhaas, for instance in China: ‘I know it is a dictatorial regime, and I know the CCTV is an instrument of that, but… developing China is the only way, and things will get better.’ It is a smart argument: first silence the traditional critics by acknowledging their unmasking of the situation, and then just say resistance is futile, and cooperating is the only way for improvement. And besides: ‘I am just an architect that wants to built.’

I don’t blame Koolhaas. I don’t think resistance is futile, but I don’t think architecture can be really critical. It is too abstract to communicate that much, therefore one should write texts and books, and talk into the camera.

In that light it is quite inconsequent of Koolhaas to fully discard iconography, instead of saying: ‘I know it might not be real, but this is how the rat race goes, and well… it gets us commissions.’

Nakheel - Satellite Photograph of Dubai, January 2007 (Copyright Nakheel)
Nakheel - Satellite Photograph of Dubai, January 2007 (Copyright Nakheel)

Dubai 1: The story so far
Dubai 2: Palm Jumeirah
Dubai 3: Palm Jebel-Ali
Dubai 4: Palm Deira
Dubai 5: The World
Dubai 6: Burj Al Arab
Dubai 7: Burj Dubai
Dubai 8: Dubai Towers
Dubai 9: Dubai Renaissance
Dubai 10: The Cloud


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