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Sat 13 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Eyes wide shut

It began with such hope, such expectation. 2008 witnessed the launch of several world-firsts that promised to boggle minds.

It began with such optimism, such hope, such expectation. 2008 witnessed the launch of several world-firsts that promised to boggle minds and capture hearts with their form and function.

David Fisher first hula-hooped his way into the spotlight by designing-and selling- two of his wiggly, wobbly towers.

Eric Kuhne & Associates designed the world's tallest tower in its 'Burj Mubarak al-Kabir' in Kuwait ... which was then beaten by Saudi Prince Al-Walid bin Talal's 'Mile-High-Tower' ... which was then beaten by Woods Bagot's 'Nakheel Tower'. None of which will take any less than 25 years to complete.

Abu Dhabi welcomed designs for a new Guggenheim, a new Louvre and a new opera house-all designed by Pritzker winners and all within walking distance of one another.

The world witnessed record-breaking performances beneath the ceilings of Beijing's record-breaking buildings, all while London promised to provide bigger and better in 2012.

The folks at Masdar made a series of compelling arguments for how they plan to build the world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste city. Nakheel's Hong Kong-sized Waterfront employed Rem Koolhaas to design something that will be unprecedented when it's finished.

FXFOWLE finished its design for the world's longest and tallest spanning arch bridge. And, in the mean time, Foster+Partners were busy designing the world's largest building: Moscow's 2.5 million square metre ‘Crystal Island'.

All were moving along swimmingly ... then it hit. The financial crisis. It actually began back in July 2007, when US investors lost confidence in securitised mortgages. Governments in the US and Europe injected capital to instil confidence, investors saw it as a sign of weakness ... and so on ... and so on.

Around mid-2008, about the time the Middle East began to take notice of this different type of world-first, stock markets everywhere began crumbling like sand castles in the coming tide.

Yet, we in the Middle East were relatively unaffected, albeit hunkered down beneath the stairs waiting for the storm to pass, but largely unaffected.

All of this leaves an obvious question: What's next? What is to become of these projects that instilled in us such optimism?

To be fair, developments being built now might benefit because they were financed in a healthy market and the credit crunch might actually make labour and materials more affordable. But, what of the new designs and masterplans?

Architects, engineers and contractors throughout the region have all said that they're concerned that their projects, which have thus far just been "suspended", will ultimately be cancelled and scrapped.

No one can honestly tell them that it won't happen. But, perhaps more disturbing is that Middle Eastern developers insist that the turmoil is a mere speed bump. They're insisting that there will be no long-term effects of what experts are calling the worst financial crisis in history.

Yet, economists are predicting it will take the world between 2-3 years to recover from the disaster. It paints a bleak picture but it's impossible to remain optimistic about these projects when designers and builders are pessimistic and developers are unrealistic.

Jeff Roberts is the editor of Middle East Architect.

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