There are currently not many buildings being designed that oblige a critic to refer to Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, simply because the design has a so obvious relation to that heritage. The Dubai Renaissance project by OMA/Rem Koolhaas is such a project.
In a sense the design is very contextual as the Gulf States, Dubai included, have loads of slabs from the sixties and seventies. This one fits right in, even enhances the existing Modernist architecture.
In scale it is really something else though. With a projected height of 300 meters it is almost as high as the Eiffel Tower. Compared to the adjacent 700 meters of the Burj Dubai it seems not that huge, but if you compared it to the original Unité d’Habitation of Le Corbusier it is six times higher. Six times!
The Dubai Renaissance is also twice the height of Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building. It is a scale that is almost unimaginable, for a slab. We could say it would be the biggest slab on earth, creating a new league in addition to the ‘highest building’ and the ‘highest structure’.
Proposing the biggest slab ever is a smart way to beat the competition. When everybody else makes form, you do abstraction. When everybody else makes towers, you do a slab. In the words of OMA:
“The ambition of this project is to end the current phase of architectural idolatry — the age of the icon — where obsession with individual genius far exceeds commitment to the collective effort that is needed to construct the city…
Instead of an architecture of form and image, we have created a reintegration of architecture and engineering, where intelligence is not invested in effect, but in a structural and conceptual logic that offers a new kind of performance and functionality.
So far, the 21st century trend in city building leads to a mad and meaningless overdose of themes, extremes, egos and extravagance.
What is needed is a new beginning, a Renaissance… Dubai is confronted by its most important choice: Does it join so many others in this mad, futile race or does it become the first 21st century metropolis to offer a new credibility?
[…] It proposes a single monolithic volume constructed, like an elevator core, in one continuous operation — 200 meters wide and 300 meters tall [comprising of offices and business forums, hotel and residential suites, retail, art and urban spaces]. Instead of competing with the Burj Dubai merely in terms of height, it overshadows it in terms of presence and substance…”
The presented arguments repeat the old dogmas of Modernism:
– The box is the most functional form for program and construction.
– Architecture can and must build the community.
That latter point, the community, is ‘solved’ with vertical streets. Pretty much like Le Corbusier did in his first Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, before he found out that it did not work and left it out in his later projects. OMA has put three double-story lobbies on different heights in the building:
1. A Business Forum in the middle of the first half of the slab, which is programmed with offices.
2. A Wellness Lobby in the middle of the upper half of the slab that is programmed halfly with a hotel, and halfly with condo’s.
3. A (public?) Panorama Lobby is placed on top of it all.
Ingenious is the plan to enliven these air-‘streets’ by making three elevator shafts. The middle one stops only at the ‘streets’. From there one walks to one of the other two cores to step in a lift that will bring you to your office, hotel-room, or house.
Stunning, really. What if Le Corbusier had thought of that? Then maybe his shopping street in the air had worked. It would then not be ‘just an elevator stop away’, but actually something you would pass anyway on your way to your house.
It will take however some courage from the developer and future-owner to actually implement such a traffic system. Because if you work on the second floor, you have to get first all the way up, then walk back the other elevator shaft, and then go back again, all the way down. Taking the emergency stairs would be an alternative, but the bottom line is that it would transform the whole concept of moving through a skyscraper. That is playing with psychology.
Though OMA suggests its design is a subversive statement against the status quo of icon building, the paradox is off course their design is the most iconic one we have seen in a while. The main characteristic of the icon is not form, but difference. Difference by inventions in form, or difference just for the difference – as here is the case. By being abstract, by being a slab, and by being the biggest slab, this design is triple different.
The bigness (in flatness and slenderness) comes with a big ‘awe’ that makes the project instantly attractive. A property all icons have. In addition to that, I think the project has the beauty Modernism was invented for. In a competition once held in Rotterdam there was an entry with the rightful title: ‘Silence is Sexy.’
In the case of OMA there are literal aspects to that sentence. In the ‘Content’ book there is an image of the Seagram Building with two Photoshopped tits hanging out of the façade. Here in Dubai it seems one of the tits has made it — be it smaller and more stylized – into the actual proposal… Or doesn’t it?
Another bad joke would be to suggest with this project the Modernist slab is finally literally cut loose from its context, as the proposed building is supposed to turn. The renderings however show a nicely cut landscape in which the project is granted a premier location, including a ring of ‘spectator’ high-rises.
According to the website of OMA the status of the project is that of an ‘ongoing concept.’ I hope the project will make it to reality.
I just realize that the Renaissance building is both retro (Modernist) and an improvement of that retro (bigger, better, bolder). Turning back to early Modernism and reworking it can result in something new, something that is again contemporary. Like the Italian Renaissance was a re-appropriation of the Roman architecture, this ‘Renaissance’ is a redoing of Modernism. As a design method it is a step back to the time before Modernism when reworking and improving historic examples was all the practice there was. Now Modernism has become our architectural history.
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