Written by Thomas Stellmach

Instant City: The Rise of Dubai

Instant City: The Rise of Dubai by Thomas Stellmach

Dubai Waterfront Project

On March 14 (2007) the Berlage Institute (Rotterdam) hosted two lectures with the title “Instant City: The Rise of Dubai”. Kees Christiaanse (Architect, Rotterdam) and George Katodrytis (Architect, Dubai) gave presentations while Roemer van Toorn moderated the event. Marc Angélil unfortunately was stuck at the Zurich airport because of the infamous Swiss weather.

Dubai is a gated community. What can we do about it? And can architecture politically engage a global market-driven power structure?

Kees answered, that Dubai is dominated by “gatedness”, “sameness”, “fadedness” and “maleness”.

He distinguishes two types of gatedness: Gated Communities, and Public Space in the form of shopping malls. The Dubai Waterfront Project has almost no public space. The front garden, the back garden and the back beach are all privatized. Streets are without sidewalks. They become isolated islands, only accessible by private boat. This will lead to closed cities lacking any form of social interaction. The notion of a free and open city will exist no longer. Welcome to the resort.
Roemer van Toorn raised the provocative question: What is so bad about sameness? The people obviously want it! Kees replied that homogeneity creates boredom which is inherently bad.

He appealed to the architect’s morals of not simply implementing European models without giving the Dubai context a second thought. He even started a “No Holland Village” campaign in reaction to a new Dutch-style settlement in Dubai. Don’t get me wrong, architects copy and paste anyhow, and rightly so, as long as context and history are considered. Following only market requests and contributing to a homogeneous mass society is not the role of an architect who has a social responsibility.

Christiaanse compares Dubai to Los Angeles; hence the initial position of Dubai as isolated deserts without regulations was similar. Local inhabitants make up only 10% of contemporary Dubai’s population, whereas the rest of the people are aliens – service personnel, tourists and working-class trades people. This inhibits identity or authenticity of a place: Dubai is made for tourists and will be very successful at it.

George Katodrytis is much more optimistic about the new developments; he works with an adventurous spirit in the context. He describes the Dubai Waterfront development and its gigantic dimensions. He believes that the architect needs to follow the rules of the market. And he and his students try to find the spaces where it is still possible to intervene. But his discourse unwittingly showed the ultimate powerlessness of the architect.

But who is making Dubai?
We know that (see “What I have achieved for Dubai is only 10% of my Vision for it.“) Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is mainly responsible for the development. He built up a totalitarian system with a selected core of highly educated advisors (Harvard, AA, and so forth) and has the money and power to push this extreme vision through.

Dubai becomes reality in the absence of democracy.


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