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Sat 5 Jul 2008 04:00 AM

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Skyline frenzy

The Dynamic Tower project has got me thinking about skyscrapers in Dubai. Just where is this architectural frenzy taking the city?

Architect David Fisher's rotating Dynamic Tower project has got me thinking about the state of the skyscraper in Dubai. Just where is this architectural frenzy to establish Dubai's character taking the city?

The irony is that Dubai's skyline is a product of the imaginations of Western architects who are given free rein to do in the Middle East what they can't at home. They design what they want at whichever extremes please them.

They are backed by willing governments and developers with cash. The Trump Organization recently hinted that it might build a skyscraper taller than the Burj Dubai. Why? Because it can.

Where does this leave Dubai? The basic concept of architecture is to marry form and function, and keep it simple. The reason why architectural giants like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright remain legends is because their design philosophy has worked for more than a century.

Nineteenth- and early 20th-century skyscrapers represented wealth, commerce, prestige and power. Once the automobile came along - and subsequently freeways - glass and steel high-rises replaced concrete exteriors, but were also designed to be aesthetically pleasing. In most cases, the American or European skyscraper was understated and elegant. Above all, the skyscraper gave a city a sense of place.

Dubai can't lay claim to understatement and elegance, and certainly not a sense of place. Review the artist's renderings of the Waterfront and it appears that designers have torn a page from the architectural plans of high-density Manhattan. There is block after block of tightly-packed plain office and residential buildings punctuated with an occasional architectural marvel.

Burj Dubai's Grand Boulevard is the modern version of the Avenue des Champs Elysees in Paris. Western architects and planners have stolen bits and pieces of Western urban design and plonked it in the desert.

The result is that Dubai lacks identity. A spectacular skyline, yes. But barely a passing nod is given to Dubai's past, traditions and culture. In their zeal to build a city that gives us the "wow" factor with unconventional shapes and gimmicks, they have stripped Dubai of its cultural identity.

Sometimes when I take a look at the Dubai skyline, I am reminded of an old Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, in which scientists remake an inhospitable desert planet into an artificial environment teeming with waterfalls and stunning greenery.

Things didn't end well for the inhabitants. At the end of the day, restraint and acknowledgment of the existing environment are good things.

Rob Wagner is the editor of Construction Week.

RELATED LINKS:Don of Dubai, Little trump has big plans

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Hombil 11 years ago

Thank you, Rob. Your article should have appeared long ago. The damage is done and it's irreversible! Dubai has lost its beauty and its now a concrete jungle. Fortunately, here in Oman the authorities, under the wise leadership of HM Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, have kept the old culture and traditions by mixing modern architecture with traditional Islamic one.

J K Motwani 11 years ago

I absolutely agree and this article should have been written at least around 5 - 6 years ago. In the next 10 years Dubai will be a hotch-potch of cities within cities with absolutely no feelings whatsoever. In a race to reach the skies they are leaving their feet off the ground and we all know what happens after that........

J K Motwani 11 years ago

I absolutely agree and this article should have been written at least around 5 - 6 years ago. In the next 10 years Dubai will be a hotch-potch of cities within cities with absolutely no feelings whatsoever. In a race to reach the skies they are leaving their feet off the ground and we all know what happens after that.

Frank 11 years ago

Come on... The world's cities would LOVE to have built what Dubai has in a few short years. The buildings here are FANTASTIC...

C.Osborne 11 years ago

I first visited Dubai in 1974 and was enchanted by its old Gulf-style buildings. Returning many times since I have seen it change into a vulgar architectural hybrid. A wonderful opportunity has been lost and while nothing must halt progress, in the quest to be best, Dubai has become an unregulated construction disaster. Congratulations to Mr.Wagner for his excellent article.

RONALD 11 years ago

Skyline frenzy. Good article Mr. Rob Wagner. It looks like its lacking the theme and proper architectural system, its more like a rat race. You can see the present situation and imagine the same after 10-15 years, hope it will be pleasing. They are in the process of reaching the skies, but forget to see the traffic down on Dubai roads. Hope they will also concentrate on proper parking space and improve on traffic system and avoid unnecessary fines. Skyscrapers are good but there is a limit to it, if it goes with the same speed then after 10 years we’ll will only see windows, and have the opportunity to even watch TV from our neighboring building. Western architects are experimenting on Dubai grounds, hope its not just the lab test. All the best.