World weary

Cityscape Global hits Dubai, but the buzz is still found lacking.
World weary
Developers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE were among exhibitors, although the vibe was \nlow key.
By Orlando Crowcroft
Tue 30 Nov 2010 12:00 AM

At the buffet table outside the conference rooms at the Dubai
Exhibition Centre, a steady stream of men in suits load up their dinner trays and
share their thoughts. “The thing is,” one says, spooning pasta salad onto the last
empty corner of his plate, “no one comes to Cityscape anymore.” His companion nods
thoughtfully, then helps himself to the butter chicken.

It might seem a little harsh from someone who just got a free
lunch, but the man with the pasta salad is not being entirely unfair. Cityscape
Global promised 30,000 visitors this year, a figure that seems optimistic given
the vibe across the hall. Then there is the addition to the name, ‘global’, which
so far boils down to the Northern Ireland Investment Authority, a gaggle of Eastern
European city councils and a couple of shifty looking American guys from the Cayman
Islands.

Over the four days, however, the presence of Middle Eastern developers
was strong. Injaz, Emaar and Aldar were all there, as were Nakheel, proudly displaying
a dated model of the Palm Jumeirah. Meydan and Falcon
City, two Dubai mega-projects that are just refusing to
roll over in 2010, were also present. The latter was once again joined by two sad-looking
falcons who looked like they haven’t had an outing since Cityscape 2009, while the
former was accompanied by a musician banging out hits on a golden piano.

The Emirati turnout was not limited to Dubai either, Ras al-Khaimah was out in force,
with a huge stand and plans for numerous developments in the Emirate. Abu Dhabi
was represented too, with Mubadala showing off all its big plans for the neighbouring
emirate, including Sowwah Square
and the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) district. Meanwhile, the Egypt pavilion featured
a prominent stand for the country’s government housing department, as well as a
number of major developers.

It was all a very regional-international affair, which, Cityscape
would argue, was exactly what it was going for this year – bringing emerging markets
to Dubai, where
developers could meet investors. Chris Speller, Cityscape director, explained the
logic on day two, when he said: “Naturally with emerging markets unhindered by unsustainable
levels of debt and with healthy growing economies, the future of real estate looks
bright.”

Except it is not exactly clear who was buying at Cityscape Global.
If 38,000 people really did go through the doors of the Exhibition Centre last week,
then few of them made it to the stands of the major developers, which looked as
quiet as they did last time. The official figures have not yet been released for
this year’s event, but it would be a fair assumption that major deals were lacking.

But what about Cityscape’s role as a business-to-business event,
linking up developers with engineers and architects and engineers and architects
with suppliers. Well, it has to be said that consultants too were thin on the ground.
Aside from stands from Dewan, P&T, Perkins Eastman and Nikken Sekkei, architects
were few and far between. At the lonely stand of US architecture firm FX FOWLE, senior
partner Sudhir Jambhekar gestured towards billowing white curtain to his right.

“We were supposed to be in the middle of the hall,” he said,
smiling, when asked about the firm’s location sandwiched between a doorway and the
dividing curtain.

Jambhekar was good natured about the situation however, pointing
out that their position allowed then prime viewing for His Highness Sheikh Maktoum
bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s opening of the event on day one. And as for
the turnout, it may have been slow, but maybe that is a blessing for a city that
was once so crazy.

“It’s more sober. I was
totally surprised by the exuberance when I first attended a few years ago and I
like it now it is a little bit toned down. I don’t know if we get any actual work
from being here, but it’s important to be seen,” Jambhekar said.

Stephan Frantzen, from P&T, agreed. He said that his stand
had more approaches this year than in previous years, although he admitted that
the true value of the event will only be gauged when the projects start rolling
in.

“This year Cityscape is much more of a business to business event
from previous years, where developers were flogging apartments, so a very positive
development in my view,” Frantzen said.

He also said that Dubai
was an obvious destination for designers and developers looking to make connections
not just in the UAE, but elsewhere in the region.

“You had Egyptian and Turkish architects for instance that were
not here in the hope of getting projects in UAE, but to meet with Egyptian developers
and developers from the region,” he said.

As for the lack of consultants, Frantzen saw it as a positive
step. Less architects means less competition.

Nikken Sekkei seems to agree. The Japanese firm used the event
to showcase its plans for the new SAR 1 billion ( $267 million) Saudi stock exchange
design project in Riyadh.
“Cityscape Global is the perfect platform to display this project which is a milestone
design for Nikken Sekkei. The new stock exchange at the heart of King Abdullah Financial
District in Riyadh
will be a state-of-the-art and intelligent building of the future,” said Mitsuo
Nakamura, Nikken Sekkei chairman, at the firm’s stand.

In the long run, some may feel it is no longer possible to draw
conclusions about the state of Dubai
from the turnout or atmosphere at Cityscape, but if sober is the word for the event
in 2010, then it is an appropriate one. A recent report by the Dubai Chamber revealed
that US$714.8-billion (Dh2,629 billion) worth of construction projects are either
at design stage or already under way in the UAE – not at all bad for a place that
has been through the challenges Dubai has over the last 12 months.

Under the circumstances, low key is probably all Cityscape both
could and would have asked for.

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