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Dubai Deconstruction Update

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July 24, 2014: Today we’re going to make an eroded cube.

Actually, we started to do it back in 2007. When it’s finished, it’s going to be another of those buildings that was “ahead of its time a decade ago” so who knows what it’ll be in 2016 when it’s supposed to come online? In 2009 the cube was quickly put on ice until the property market heated up again :S Hence the current developer, media and architect impatience to see the bloody thing built so everyone can move on to more of the same.


As with many buildings, you start with some columns and slabs. See how the cube will appear to be what passes for “floating” in the world of architecture? This is how it’s done. Have some recessed columns and then, when your building is sufficiently floaty, have big concrete corbels pick up the load of the columns above that are sufficiently out of the way to not lower the office rents, but not sufficiently up to the edge so they mar the essential cubeness. Best wait before deciding if it was worth the effort.

Those little bits of space between the column and the glazing can’t be used and so can’t be let. The area is usually deducted from the rentable square footage and the question is if the end aesthetic effect will enable this office space to be rented at a premium that compensates? It might. Photobombing Opus below is the O14 building by NY architects Reiser+Umemoto.


It’s got a load-bearing external wall with loads of holes and loads of steel around those holes. That load bearing wall is basically a “screen” that’s largely detached from the floor loads it carries, meeting the slab only where there aren’t holes. 50%?

Building a structural wall and then denying it half its opportunities to support the floors was never going to be a low-rent way to build. Nevertheless, the building’s mostly let at above market rates despite being over around the arse end of Business Bay.

Opus is located behind Executive Towers, across the road from the “Bay Avenue” car park, local supermarket and restaurants. It’s not a great place, but architects don’t usually get to decide what their clients want built and where.


Anyway, here’s where it was up to this morning.


It’s getting a bit shapey now. It’s basically two buildings that’ll have a steel bridge connecting them at the top at the front, and a glassy roof covering a large lobby between the two cores so you can admire the hole above. You start to get an idea how all this is going to join up.


Inside the internal curves will be corridors providing more opportunities to admire the hole. These’ll have to be the only corridors if there’s to be any hope of achieving a floor plan efficiency anywhere near 85%. I don’t think it’s going to look much like this image.


The crevice on the south side has been undeconstructed, presumably to claw back some value.


ZHA’s website has an image with the inside of the curvy bit all lit up like the Belarus National Library. That’s something we can look forward to.

435_BelarusNationalLibrary (1)

3 August 2014

Oops, Opus is an hotel now. Almost as an aside with the August 6 announcement of the lobby feature thing, was the mention that it will be an hotel without any acknowledgement that it was ever to have been otherwise. “It is an hotel. It has always been an hotel”.


Not that it matters. Property developers develop property and it makes no difference to them whether it’s retail, commercial, leisure or residential. One might have thought that difference might matter a bit to architecture, if not architects, but no. A lobby’s a lobby whatever the website. The function of the lobby art thing is A) to remind us to look forward to this building we’d forgotten about and B) to forcibly reframe the frame of reference in terms the architects are comfortable with.

We’re seeing more of the back in this current PR nudge. It’s never going to photograph well from the already over-exposed front view from Al Amal Street. When it’s completed, it’ll be interesting to see if Iwan Baan can make it look as fab as he did the Heydar Aliyev Monument to Dynastic Kleptocracy.


The render of the hotel room and view must be one they’d made earlier as it places the building 16km (10 or so miles) down the road in Dubai Marina – here, specifically –


and not in Business Bay in what would have been the shadow of the Signature Towers that never got to exist. I’m unsure if this is just sloppy work or that nobody could be arsed to get it right anymore once the PR value of Opus was compromised by its 2008 stillbirth. What we’re seeing is minimal effort to extract whatever value can be extracted before a brief fanfare of publicity and a Stirling Prize upon its opening.

Not that any of this matters either. It reminds me of Tom Heneghan‘s winning entry in the 1975 Japan Architect housing competition

with a house for Raquel Welch. What was a superstar, he reasoned, if not a media fiction? The house, therefore, existed only as a magazine article; the entry (non-conforming, of course) gave the fictional house from the compositor’s point of view. Image signifies image. It was so postmodern it was positively prescient.


Henegan’s final entry showed the final (TIME) magazine article being read outside the stands. The mock article was illustrated with an image of a cottage something like this


and a Bruce Goff interior. It was brilliant and scary and true.


People put the two together in their heads to imagine something that didn’t exist and was never going to. Job done.

What I find interesting about OPUS is that the idea of it was put in our heads long ago and processed. Now, when we’ve processed it and mostly forgotten about it or otherwise dismissed it, it’s actually painful to watch the thing get built. In the great fiction that is architectural progress, whatever the design was supposed to do has already been done. All that remains to be seen is the reality bit.