Guggenheim architect slams Dubai's 'cheap' towers

Frank Gehry also admits he was initially reluctant to work on Abu Dhabi museum

Architect Frank Gehry has dismissed some of the skyscrapers in Dubai as “cheap and anonymous”.

Architect Frank Gehry has dismissed some of the skyscrapers in Dubai as “cheap and anonymous”.

Legendary architect Frank Gehry has dismissed some of the skyscrapers in Dubai as “cheap” and “anonymous” and revealed he was originally reluctant to work on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, his first project in the Arab world.

Gehry, who has been hailed as “the most important architect of our age" by Vanity Fair magazine, hit out at some of the skyscrapers which have been built in the region.

“The worst thing is when you go to places like Dubai. They're on steroids, but they just end up looking like American or European cities with these anonymous skyscrapers - like every cruddy city in the world,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine.

“One would hope there would be more support from within these places for architecture that responds to the place and culture. That's what I'm trying to do, but, man, no one else seems to be involved with it. It's just cheap copies of buildings that have already been built somewhere else.”

Canadian-born Gehry was commissioned in 2006 to design the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum, which will be his first project in the Arab world and the largest Guggenheim museum in the world.

However, he admitted he was initially hesitant to sign up for the project: “I was a bit reluctant to get engaged in the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. It's so far away and the cultural issues seemed so different. I had never worked in an Arab country. What I bought into, when we talked to the sheikhs and the deciders, was that this was going to be a museum for a globalised art culture. I don't know of another museum in the world that will have the resources to show off this new era of contemporary art.”

In 2011 an international coalition of around 43 artists announced they had pledged to snub the Guggenheim Museum Abu Dhabi over worker conditions on Saadiyat Island. Gehry also addressed the human rights issue in his opinion piece.

“We hired a human rights lawyer from Human Rights Watch when we started on the Abu Dhabi project. Both we and our client were interested in making sure the project was in the clear. There was a time when they were being beat up on for the conditions of temporary workers. And they did something about it: They built relatively comfortable camps. These issues are important to me when I take a project.”

Last year, it was announced the iconic museums set for Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island were to be delayed, with the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi pushed back to 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi to 2015 and the Zayed National Museum until 2016. All three had been scheduled to open in 2013.

A spokesperson for Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), the developer behind the Saadiyat Island development, was not immediately available to respond to Gehry’s comments.

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Posted by: Mischifus


The US has the largest direct & indirect cheap labor force until today. Most American based companies that contract all of their manufacturing to 3rd world countries R making profits from a workforce that have no rights period. Cheap Latin labor across America earning less than minimum wage. 7.35$ an hour B4 taxes? Im not attacking the US. I lived there for many years and love the people and the country. All i ask is that you B fair. Mr. Gehry, Knock offs, cheap copies, what ever U want 2 call it is not the point. The point here is that u accepted 2 do the work yourself knowing fully the facts about the social & cultural differences which gives the UAE its individual & unique fabric. A fabric that is truly full of respect, hospitality and fairness to most. I said MOST bcoz its impossible to find a country, city or culture that will be viewed as perfect by all. Mr. Gehry, Your own works R inspired by doing something that already exists but improved upon! Get Real!

Posted by: Mischifus

I am tired of the never ending criticism when it comes 2 the UAE, Abu Dhabi and Dubai specially when it comes 2 workers pay & living conditions. I am a big fan of Mr. Gehry's work. But looking at some of the posts above i am left with feelings of disgust at some of the ignorant assumptions & opinions. It's everyones right to have an opinion but based on facts not BS they heard through the grapevine. First, i will acknowledge that there are some issues when it comes to working conditions which R being addressed at all levels of government. Still i would like some of those who have made these comments 2b fair & consider the following: The US, a country thats been around for 224 years since the constitution has had its own history with worker's rights & until recently with the Fast Food Chain's workers who were expected 2 work in conditions that were less than ideal considering 40 degree temperatures indoors with no AC.

Posted by: Billy

Instead of bashing the guy for his comments why not try and see if there is any validity in what he has said and see if Dubai can learn from its mistakes. A quick look at the mess Dubai has made of Jumeirah Beach residences will quickly confirm he is right. They are cheap, monotonous, boring and have no visual value whatsoever.

Posted by: YouMustBeNewHere

Hi Billy, this is not how things work here. Any comment from anyone who is not an unconditional praise of Dubai and its achievements will be labeled as "hate" and you will be asked to "go back to your own country" and pointed the "road to the airport"
It does not matter how evident it is (yes JBR is a sore on the eyes plus the status of some buildings is quite questionable) or that cutting corners in quality has left a number of buildings in a quite perilous situation (covered in flammable materials, who would have imagined this could be dangerous) or that the short-term thinking (ie greed) translates into much higher than expected maintenance costs or shortened building life.

Posted by: naser

creativity is a bless, yet it is a curse when one starts to detract other people's efforts and hard working.
stereotyping is not a noble manner of great people, yet...not all creative people are great.
maybe, Gerhy wanted a bigger role in SZR!
aren't we all seek perfectness, seems to me someone has lost his humble side in the process.

Posted by: maan

It depends on why you are building. We are in a global system where liquidity drives the world round and to get things done in order to get hold of a piece of the global pie within bubble formations (white collars multiplying GDP with debt-fueled consumption) is more important than to get things done in a differentiated approach. Hence, "Build it and they will come". The buildings are a reflection of all of us.

I can understand where he's coming from it's the diminishing role that uniqueness and creativity is playing in our world. However, as the comments allude to: he is rather contradictory with his perspective.

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