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Wed 26 Jun 2013 01:22 PM

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Guggenheim architect slams Dubai's 'cheap' towers

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

Guggenheim architect slams Dubai's 'cheap' towers
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.

WHJ 6 years ago

I guess he's upset he was never asked to design a skyscraper in Dubai. His ego is hurt.

Abdul Qadeer Shaikh 6 years ago

I advise Dubai to not care about this comment. Ever since Dubai has become best city in the world and has tallest tower, we see some western people jealous and try to talk negative of Dubai. They cannot bring Dubai down and they only show their small mind by talking bad things. Future belong to Dubai and Arab World.
Best wishes and regards.

Ty Say 6 years ago

I bet this is a quote taken out of context by the media yet again. There are "Plastic", cheap buildings in every city in the World, including Franks home base of Los Angeles. It would never be cost effective or realistic to build standard office / residential buildings any different than they do normally.

Monkey Tennis 6 years ago

Your comment is deeply ironic because his very point is that Dubai has failed to reflect its own heritage and culture in so many of its buildings and that is a shame; it has in too many cases simply replicated the sort of buildings that can be seen in just about any other Western/International city. He is clearly not Dubai-bashing. I think he is probably right to say that the Middle East is struggling to establish its own modern architectural idiom. Often on these forums GCC locals decry the impact of ex-pats on local culture - he's agreeing with you!

tony 6 years ago

Best city in the world? Come on, do you honestly believe that?? Best city in the middle-east, yes. But the world? HAHA

Georjeann 6 years ago

Is funny that these comments come from someone who is already making a copy of one of his own buildings in Europe in Abu Dhabi, this guy, like any other "star system" Architect is a joke of himself, simply by criticizing other Architecture calling it "cheap copies of already existing Architecture in Europe and America" of course is cheap, is cheaper than his "more compromised with the local conditions and culture" Architecture anyway, what wouldn't be?.

what a joke, seriously.

sa1 6 years ago

AB have some journalistic ethics. The guy is an expert in his field. He is giving a constructive criticism and after reading his comments I would definitely agree with him.
what's wrong in saying "guys you have a chance to build a new city. So don't just copy US , EUR but look at your culture and have buildings that inspires Arab identity

jonjon 6 years ago

he has a point though about no buildings being designed by locals and have influences of the emirate culture whatever that is

Ned 6 years ago

What a ridiculous comment by Gehry! I come from Chicago, the city of the first ever skycraper, and when I drive along SZR and see Dubai's, I can't help but applaud Dubai's variety in skycrapers!! It is Dubai that allowed the world's architchets to unleash their vision and designs and actually implement them. If the claim about Dubai's cheap skyscrapers is true, then Oh MY God help us O God....the rest of the world's skyscrapers are absolute total rubbish. Mr Gehry, please stick to Abu Dhabi and keep your words to yourself!

Hamza 6 years ago

Hilarious coming from a guy whose own own Guggenheim Abu Dhabi design is a cheap replica of his two previous designs of Guggenheim Bilbao and Walt Disnet Concert Hall (which by the way, although cool, look exactly the same)!

Whilst I agree with his criticism regarding some towers on Sheikh Zayed Road (eg Big Ben replica), this doesn't apply to the majority of buildings.