Architecture In The Emirates

Architecture In The Emirates is one of those TASCHEN books with words by Philip Jodidio. Published on the 1st of November 2007, it’s an historic document. Given the book’s title, I was surprised to find it included buildings in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The contents suggest Architecture In The Gulf Countries ought to have been the title but it lacks shelf appeal. Architecture In The Middle East suggests something totally different. Architecture In The GCC Countries won’t mean much to many.

The year was 2007 so the purpose of the book was to whip up excitement for rampant development and a world where anything seemed possible. Jodidio voices a few reservations in his intro but the overall and overriding message is how wonderful everything is going to be. The book is divided into chapters not by country or city but by 20 practitioners and their 32 projects. Odd.

This book once purported to show us the future. It’s now February 2020, some twelve and a quarter years on. Let’s see how much of that future came to pass. In the following, I thought it better to respectfully disregard buildings not in the U.A.E. than to disrespectfully regard them. Quotation marks around dates indicate stated expectations in 2007, but we will never know if they were ever realistic.

#1 Dancing Towers Abu Dhabi, AEDAS “2005–2010”

These are a rare example of construction beginning in 2008 of all years, and completing in 2012 but as Shining Towers instead of Dancing Towers.

#2 Pentominium Dubai, AEDAS “2006–2015” (2012)

Construction of this 122-storey building began in 2009. Completion was expected in 2013 but the holding company fell behind on loan repayments and construction stopped at the 22nd floor in 2011. A further nine years on, the building is as you see in in the photo at right.

As long as we’re talking about AEDAS, it’s curious their Dubai Metro stations weren’t mentioned as the designs (by a Serbian architect whose first name was Goran, still working at AEDAS in 2009) were finalized in 2005. I suspect they weren’t fantastical enough to be the future the editors of the book had in mind. I’ve always liked how the design visually absorbs and slows down the linear thrust of the track and its trains viz. the design is such that the stations look like places where trains will come to a stop. It’s also good that that’s all the design does but perhaps other people see that as a fault.

#3 Maritime Museum Abu Dhabi, Tadao Ando “2006–”

These two images from the book are still floating around the internet. The museum was part of the second phase of the Saadiyat Island development, now rescheduled to come after Nouvel’s Abu Dhabi Louvre, along with Hadid’s performing arts centre, Gehry’s Guggenheim and Foster’s National Museum.

#4 Strata Tower Abu Dhabi, Asymptote “2005–2009”

Construction of this 40-storey luxury residential building was to have been completed by 2011 at first, and then by 2013. I’m not finding any images of a completed building and can’t tell you where it was supposed to have been or if construction ever commenced.

#5 Burj Al Arab Dubai ATKINS 1994–1999

This is the one that started it all. It’s still there. Completed in 1999 it turned twenty last December 2. People forget how amazing it was.

#6 Acropolis Universe Behnishch Architects, Dubai, “2004–2005”

With a name like that, this can only be a concept for a sustainable resort city with a name like Senscity and planned for Las Vegas and that won an Architectural Review/Cityscape award in 2005. On page 58 is an amazing example of boomtime architect mediaspeak. It’s difficult to believe anyone ever took it seriously.

Rather than creating traditional buildings, the architects sought to design “elements firmly embedded in the landscape, including a large artificial lake and extensive vegetation. A series of 37-metre-high, 91-metre-wide “flower-like” structures were designed to provide shade and cool air.

The project doesn’t seem to have gone beyond what you see here. It might never have been intended to but you never know.

#7 Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi, Frank Gehry “2006 – “

If this one was anywhere near being completed we would know about it.

#8 The Gate Building Dubai, Gensler 2003

This one is safely a part of Dubai’s built history now. It’s a very handsome building – probably Gensler’s best in Dubai.

#9 Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Master Plan Dubai, Gensler “2001–2004”

The Gate Building was the signature building for this masterplan that included a series of office buildings (mostly built), a hotel (built) and a retail arcade stretching in the direction of what was to become Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. In 2008 ATKINS were appointed architects for the retail arcade and perhaps half its length had opened by last year.

#10 Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Center Abu Dhabi, Zaha Hadid “2007–2012”

We’re going to have to wait a bit longer for this.

#11 Opus Office Tower Dubai, Zaha Hadid “2007–2010” (2019)

This one took forever but was eventually completed, more or less, last year as a hotel and mixed-use building. It’s almost there. The lobbies are currently being fitted, as are some offices. At night, the hole in the middle has an ever-changing twinkly light display. [c.f. The Vertical City]

#12 Signature Towers Business Bay Dubai, Zaha Hadid “2006 – “

I remember seeing some rather labyrinthine basement car parking plans but construction never began. The site was the very same one as Rem Koolhaas’ prior rotating tower. It remains empty to this day.

#13 Dubai Autodrome Dubai, HOK Sport 2000–2004

This exists as, amongst other things, what seems to be some sort of corporate go-karting place. The phase I building was probably completed in 2004 but, oddly, photographs are few. A curious inclusion. HOK Sport were to later design the stadium for the London Olympics.

#14 ADIA Headquarters KPF 2001–2007

This one is quite a landmark on the Abu Dhabi corniche. The image on the left is the one in the book, the one on the right more recent.

#15 Louvre Abu Dhabi Jean Nouvel “2007–2012” (2007–2017)

Completion was delayed but it exists and looks much as you imagine, although not much expensively dappled light gets past the many-layered dome. The image on the left is in the book, and the one on the right I took a couple of years back. [c.f. AD Louvre vs. LV Foundation]

#16 RAK Convention Exhibition Centre OMA/Rem Koolhaas “2006– “

RAK stands for Ras Al Khaimah, the northernmost of the seven emirates. UAE capital cities have the same names as their respective emirates. e.g. Dubai is the capital city of the emirate of Dubai, etc.

Even back in the day, I don’t think anyone ever expected this one to get built. Some called it The Death Star and, a few years later, it did circle around to show up in the masterplan for the third palm development at Jebel Ali in Dubai’s south.

#17 Porsche Design Buildings OMA “2007–2009”

I don’t know the history of these buildings but there’s something amiss when a design brand outsources the design of a building. It’s a missed opportunity, for a building designed with the intelligence that goes into the design of a Porsche is something I’d like to see. I don’t think it ever broke ground. No new images exist.

It looks like it was to have been somewhere across the road from the O–14 building. And that the large red “self-shading” opening in the office building faces due west.

In passing, here’s the O-14 building (Reiser+Umemoto, completed 2010), and a typical floor of the Porsche Design Buildings apartments. I haven’t seen one like this since Ponte Tower, Johannesburg, 1975. [c.f. More Poor Doors] It’s essentially a deck-access slab curled in on itself. The curiously contrived plans allow for studio, 1-bed and 2-bed apartments in the manner of Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City.

#18 Automotive Complex ONL Abu Dhabi, “2006– “

This are all the images I could find of this one, and all of which are in the book. The client and estimated cost were never disclosed. The deadpan text describes it as an architecture influenced by speed.

#19 Manhal Oasis Abu Dhabi “2006– “

This was conceived as a destination city with the three major attractions of (1) a Cultural Gate with two museums and an Experience Landmark Structure, (2) a South East Gate with a shopping mall and wellness centre, and (3) a Downtown and Souk district with four 60-storey towers. I’m paraphrasing the breathless text, the meaning and point of which is now lost to us.

#20 National Bank of Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi, Carlos Ott 1997–2000

I hadn’t known of Carlos Ott (born Montevideo 1946) but this building is decent and has aged well.

#21 National Bank of Dubai Dubai, Carlos Ott, 1996–1998

This is also one of Ott’s, is also a bank, and has definitely aged well. It’s convex facade compresses water, land and sky into a single picture. It’s a simple idea well worth copying anywhere with similar conditions, but I don’t think it ever was. It’s perhaps my all-time favourite building in Dubai and if I’m passing by I make sure I catch a glimpse of it.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

#22 Shams, Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi, RNL “2006– ” 2012

Masterplans take time and are often the first casualties of an economic crisis. I can’t find the original images anymore, but left, below is an updated image of something similar to the one in the book. The image in the middle is googleearth and casting the long shadows at the bottom is Arquitectonica’s Shams Gate development. It won an award in 2009 and, at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Cityscape, was judged best completed mixed-use development in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region although only one half of the low-rise elliptical building has been completed.

#23 Burj Dubai Dubai, SOM 2004–2009

This happened, and was renamed Burj Khalifa.

Taken through the tinted windows of a Volvo XC90 the first time I visited Dubai in 2006.
Taken while driving a Ford Focus in 2013.
Taken from Dubai Mall Metro Station in 2019.

So what does all this mean? I’ve mentioned 23 out of the 32 projects in the book. The two notable omissions due to them not being in the UAE are Bahrain World Trade Centre in Manama, Bahrain (ATKINS 2003–2007), and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar (IM Pei, 2003–2008).

Of the 23 projects (72%), twelve were completed either fully or partially so let’s say 50%. This built–to-cancelled ratio stays the same even if I include the non-UAE projects. Of the eleven not built, eight were cancelled outright and the three rescheduled are Gehry’s Guggenheim, Ando’s Museum and the Zaha Hadid building in Abu Dhabi. Here’s the completed twelve.

1998#5 Burj Al Arab
#21 National Bank of Dubai
2000#20 National Bank of Abu Dhabi
2003#8 The Gate Building
2004#9 Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Master Plan
#13 Dubai Autodrome
2007#14 ADIA Headquarters
2009#23 Burj Khalifa (this could not not have been completed on time)
2012#1 Dancing Towers (delayed two years)
#22 Shams Abu Dhabi (delay not disclosed)
2017 #15 Louvre Abu Dhabi (delayed five years)
2019#11 OPUS Office Tower (delayed nine years)

Any survey of architecture in a place and over an era is inescapably as subjective as an end-of-year top ten list and the buildings I’ve bolded in the table above are ones I think ought to be included in any survey – an essential 5 out of 23. To be generous, I could add Arquitectonica’s Shams Abu Dhabi (#22) and Hadid’s OPUS Office Building (#11) but that still leaves two thirds of the book’s contents as either filler, bad calls or media ephemera. True, not everything that’s designed gets built and the book’s editors weren’t to know what would and what wouldn’t but can anyone say they seriously believed any of these three would? [c.f. The History of Forgetting]

They’re just three of the many fantastical things that were around at the time and that deserve a book of their own, hopefully as a caution. I see them as examples of a sunset effect – a spectacular display occurring just before an inevitable darkness.

The most curious thing about this book is how it has historical selections that are safely built and fantastical ones that never would be. The lack of content in the middle makes me think the role of the former was to provide something on which to hang the latter.

Construction of Foster+Partners’ The Index began in 2005 and the building was completed and opened in 2011without the usual fanfare.

When buildings, helped by the media, come to represent economic “exuberance” then carbon form is always the preferred way to go. We’ll have to reckon with this one day and, when that day comes, there’ll be sufficient evidence without these next three that were reasonably fine designs. In late 2008 when economic storm clouds were gathering, the middle one was under construction and the other two were being documented. Strange as it may seem now, they represented reality and, more than any NDA, I suspect this is why they’re not in this book. In my next post I want to talk about a sub-category of these buildings that almost were – The Uncompleted.


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