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The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be

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A quick visit to Dubai’s Cityscape Global Exhibition yesterday made me think that, as ever, it’s only rich rulers and property developers who are ceaselessly optimistic about the future and the building of cities. Rich rulers can’t change countries at will but, as evidenced from the previous evenings’ Cityscape Awards for Emerging Markets, property developers can flit from place to place whenever they please, sprinkling their fairydust.

Here’s Falcon City as it’s imagined now – I confess that I never really understood until yesterday that the city is shaped like a falcon. And why not? Stranger things have been known to happen.


The original idea was to reconstruct all the wonders of the world in one place – hence the original name of Falconcity of Wonders. (“The world in a city!”) Here’s a colourful model from the past.

Pyramids may come and go, but the Not-The-Eiffel-Tower has staying power – along with the Taj Mahal, apparently.

The clearest sign that the Dubai property market is recovering was given today when one Cityscape developer announced it is hoping to build a huge replica of the Taj Mahal of Agra in its Falconcity of Wonders scheme as well as an Eiffel Tower, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Wall of China and the pyramids of Egypt.

Good luck with the replica Great Wall of China guys! (Thanks TheNational.) Meanwhile, over in Abu Dhabi, you can tell why Saadiyat translates as Happiness Island, what with its guaranteed investment returns and its flexible payment terms.

“guaranteed investment returns’, “flexible payment terms”

It’s been that long since I thought about it, that I forgot the name of the Gehry building or what it’s meant to be. Whatever it is, it looks like it’s going to be a large collection of bits, each of which is actually very large.


Meanwhile, around the corner.

something seems missing from this image

Back in Dubai now, at another beach.

the beach at Dubai Marina as it is now, more or less
and “The Beach” remade with retail opportunities and a cinema complex

In the above photograph, imagine that each of the people represent a cluster of 40-story buildings. Since The Beach is currently being built on the beach parking lots, this development must be targeting the people living in those buildings. Meanwhile …

a bit of a song and dance from the Northen Caucusus
Greater Doha (satellite image, July 12)

And yes, that’s true – have a google. IM Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art is that bright spot at the bottom of the image, near what turns out to be a circular promenade. That’s Doha itself on the bit at 9 o’clock protruding into what’s fast becoming a lagoon.

this one has no internet presence yet in either English or Arabic – can’t wait!
and finally, a bit more redefining of real estate paradigms …

All in all, I MISS THE FUTURE! Not so much the glossy renders of five or six years ago, but something more profound.

(gratuitous image of glossy render of five or six years ago)

I didn’t really expect to find it at Cityscape Global, but I feel like I’ve already lived in these cities of the future. I miss a sense that the future will somehow be a better place to be – or even a different place to be. The future isn’t what it used to be. Here’s some of my  favourite visions of the future (and here‘s some more).

Francisco Mujica, 1930 – a city without retail opportunities, without pointless reinvention
The Venus Project – this is so politically, technologically, economically and aesthetically flawed that it’s worthy of a post of its own. Nevertheless, it is an optimistic vision of the future even if it is premised upon “selfish” countries making their resources “available” for the “whole world” to “share”. It’s battily joyous, audacious and delusional – until of course the whole “sharing resources” thing gets ugly …
Megaton City (again!) – I’m bored with the boundaries between inside space and outside space being blurred.
I don’t want to feel like I’m outside when I’m inside.
Superstudio’s Megaton City with it’s “courtyardization” of Nature is having none of that.
Expo ’70, Osaka, Japan – this was back when expos were truly global events with countries competing to show how progressive they were.

It’s probably impossible to appreciate Expo ’70 now, a bit like how it’s now impossible for us to imagine a future that isn’t the creature of speculative property development. It’s pointless even wishing it otherwise since the future is an abstraction anyway. Imagining it was somehow better in the past is just two more layers of abstraction on top of that. Like the primitive hut, an optimistic future is something we only want because we we could not help but lose it anyway.