Roman City, by OMA
When you look at the new masterplan that OMA drew for a piece of Dubai near Palm Jebel Ali and imagine it with a different kind of architecture, with different icons, it is actually quite a disappointment. It’s a grid on a square island. That’s it.
When taking the architecture back into account, my first conception of the plan was: this is a Roman town, with some flavor of Manhattan and Alexandria.
It has strictly square plots in a strictly square layout, with a ‘defense’ something around it in the shape of water and four entry points. More importantly: the grid is punctuated by monuments (icons). All exactly like the Romans designed their cities.
Obviously, the architecture here is different. Instead of the low-rise patio dwellings, there are high-rises, and instead of the amphitheatre and basilica as monuments there are a spherical building and a three-dimensional skyscraper as icons. The lighthouse of Alexandria is echoed in the twisted tower that marks the passageway to the sea.
It is quite ironic that the supposedly ‘city of the future’ Dubai, is enriched with a more than 2000 years old city plan. Is that progress?
Maybe not, but it still could have real quality. If the strategy of the island works and some version of the culture of congestion that made Manhattan would emerge again, this piece of Dubai could actually become dense. If the buildings would then provide the streets with public plinths, an actual street life could grow.
That is the most positive scenario I can think of.
I don’t think this piece of Dubai in particular will become so important it will become a new center in the city. You never know. And the renderings are rather convincing. But unless this square island would get some serious shopping malls, I don’t see it happening. Why would one shop in the street, when a shopping mall is so much more convenient?
Dubai = Shopping, so there where the shopping malls are, that’s the city center. I am tempted to imagine the gigantic sphere in the plan to be programmed as a shopping mall. But is probably isn’t, and it wouldn’t be that smart anyway. A vertical shopping mall… will it ever work?
What strikes me most though is that the plan is… and I am hesitating to write this… small! Compared to the adjacent Palm Jebel Ali, the XL has become S. In comparison the plan by OMA is something like ‘cute’. That poses a problem, because the possibility of a new island is enormously reduced in the vicinity of two far bigger peninsulas. OMA tries hard, but it’s all just too small.
Speculatively, one can imagine a generation of cities after Dubai that has an architecture of an even bigger scale. The city of the future is not dense and three-dimensional, like imagined in the film Metropolis, but vast and big.
What I like about the plan of OMA is that it uses water to draw a square in the desert landscape of Dubai. At a much larger scale this strategy could provide a serious counterpart for the land-art of the Palm-islands, The World, Waterfront, and The Universe.
With creeks and lakes inverse images could be created in the landscape. We could imagine the beach as a mirror, separating the ‘positive’ forms from the ‘negative’ forms. In theory the negative-positive strategy could integrate the beach-developments into the fabric of the city and therefore become an instrument to make the city more continuous, more urban, and in the end more public.
The scale of such plans would require serious commitment of the government. The commission of OMA is far more limited and is at the end defined by a gate and a theme – like most of Dubai.
In a sense it is the gated theme park that made up Coney Island at the beginning of the twentieth century. Rem Koolhaas suggests in ‘Delirious New York’ that the artificiality of Coney Island laid the ground for the growth of New York City. If only… another Manhattan could happen.
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: Cloud