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The Aftermath

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Much like fire and the fuel, heat and oxygen triangle, in order for buildings to exist there has to be 1) Land, 2) Money and somebody with 3) The Will to make something happen. Land is always land but Money is another way of saying resources. We could think of Will as the urge of architects eager to spread their designs around the world or the desire of persons of means to make a difference to society but we’d be less generous and more accurate if we thought of it as the incentive of owners to make a profit. Architects are expected to add value to buildings and buildings are expected to add value to land. Even if they don’t always.

The construction industry has many statistics that are standard economic indicators. The construction industry is a canary in a coal mine.

Whether it’s a local, regional or global financial crisis, the effect is to remove Money from the equation and when there’s no money to make more, there’s no Will. Incentive evaporates and construction stops. The phrase grinds-to-a-halt gets used.

Instead of a completed building or the promise of one adding value to property there’s an incomplete one subtracting it. This is a problem.

The Never Weres

It’s difficult to tell if any if these next three proposals were ever seriously intended or if they were just cases of overexcited architects and business development managers wanting to keep their practices’ names in media circulation to see who calls. This large category of buildings would be of little importance if it hadn’t functioned to generate media churn and froth that created the feeling anything was possible and perhaps it was. Until it wasn’t. We talk of boom and bust but the reality is a period of suspended disbelief followed by an inevitable reckoning.

The Never Weres were throwaway designs that had an existence, even if only onscreen and in our minds. They served to cement their designers’ reputations as visionaries and produce the absurd situation where the worth of visionaries is not diminished but validated by those visions never eventuating. But visionary visions ahead of their time yesterday are the architectural indiscretions remembered today and if we’re not eager to remember them it’s because our eagerness to consume them was partly responsible for them existing in the first place. Their true purpose may well have been to identify and attract financial enthusiasm for a project.

The Almost Were

Projects in this category were approved and in the documentation stage when they were cancelled because economic winds either began to or looked like they might blow the other way. The Icon Hotel was designed by WS ATKINS and was to have been the culmination of The Promenade complex of apartment and hotel towers along a reclaimed peninsula at the north end of Dubai Marina.

The peninsula is still there and appears at the left edge of this next image of Anara Tower, also designed by WS ATKINS and also put on hold in the first half of 2009, and later cancelled.

It’s a shame Dubai’s quirky Hard Rock Cafe had to be demolished to make way for Anara Tower as it had the kind of craziness all cities could do with more of. It opened in 1997 with Chuck Berry performing, closed in March 2009 and was demolished around the same time Anara Tower was cancelled.

We can add ZHA’s 2007 proposal for Business Bay Signature Towers to this category as well as Nakheel Tower. The latter had two architectural partners, three names, three different sites, and at least three redesigns. The model of the final iteration displayed at Cityscape Dubai 2007 was awesome. As in big.

The Delayed

These are buildings completed as designed but only after considerable delay. The completed building may have opened with a different use, a different name and possibly a different owner. Construction of the building now known as Gevora Hotel began in 2005. It reached full height in 2008 but cladding proceeded imperceptibly and for years the building seemed stuck at the stage shown in the image at left, below. Sometime around 2016 it was capped with the golden tent and the building completed in 2017 to open the following year as a hotel instead of an apartment building.

Designed in 2005, construction of ZHA’s OPUS Office Building was very protracted. Originally intended as offices, a January 2nd 2018 article said it would open as a mixed-use building that month, and maybe it did and was followed was one very extended soft opening. [c.f. The Vertical City] Last week, the site hoardings were gone and the area surrounding it was being prepared for the growies to be trucked in. On the other side of the building were signs of office spaces being furbished. Lobby fit-out continues behind temporary partitions.

The Born Again

Construction of the 60-floor Tiara United Towers began in 2006 with one tower as a 5-star hotel and the other as offices. Both were reduced to 47 stories in 2007 but construction paused in 2008, restarting in 2016 to a different design. Seemingly designed in a rush, cores were peculiarly close to the outer walls and there was also some elevated walkway bridging the buildings to little purpose or effect.

The correction ditched the bridge and, thanks to the steel structure, it was possible to add more depth to the floorplates, as well as some relief to the main facade. Construction had restarted by 2018 and the project is now almost ready as apartments and unrecognizable from what it started out as.

The Compromised

The US firm Fentress Architects conceived Dubai Mixed Use Towers as two 50-storey office/apartment and hotel towers. The hotel tower was reduced to 30-storeys and the structures of both were simplified. The Dancing Sisters moniker was dropped as any notion of conceptual equivalence was gone. Completed 2012, open 2013.

The Aborted

I’d forgotten about the 108-storey Burj Al Alam. The image on the left is from when construction began in 2006 and the one on the right is piling going ahead 2008. It was put on hold soon after piling work was completed in 2009 and by 2013 the site had been filled in. Nothing has happened since.

In this category are two more by WS ATKINS – DIFC Lighthouse Tower and Trump International Hotel and Tower. Site preparation for DIFC Lighthouse Tower commenced in 2008, but the project was delayed in 2009 and then cancelled. Sand was hauled in to bury what work had been done and by 2010 the site looked like nothing had ever happened.

In 2013 the DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre) unveiled a new plan for the site. Construction of Foster+Partner’s ICD Brookfield Place commenced in 2016 and the sand removed to expose the essential groundwork already in place.

Trump International Hotel and Tower made it a bit further. Piles had been driven and basements and underground car parking constructed when it was put on hold late 2008 to be formally cancelled in 2013. It’s not quite as if nothing ever happened for it did break ground, even if by only one metre. The joined towers were to straddle a monorail station and Al Itthiad Park Station was eventually built at what is now Itthiad (National) Park. On the station’s north side is a one-metre high dais with a segment shape following the geometry of the North Tower substructure. This is the only sign something almost happened there once.

• • • 

All these buildings were either safely completed or never really started. The problem is those buildings that were started but never completed. The week after next, this post will conclude as The Uncompleted.


  • One of the weirdest things about this is how many of the buildings are by WS Atkins, a company the Blair government was constantly outsourcing stuff like rubbish disposal, school administration, or the design of an aircraft carrier to, under PFI, as if it had some sort of omni-competence.

    Of course it did, in one very specific field – contract-hunting. A bubble-era icon in itself.

    • says:

      You’re right, and I also couldn’t help thinking that ATKINS’s buildings were disproportionately represented. Some of this I put down to my familiarity with their output, having worked in their Dubai office between September 2008 and April 2009. On the other hand, and as you say, they were very successful in getting contracts. For every ATKINS building we know of there are several we never heard about. This is one of my favorites and I’m sorry I never remembered it in time to include it in the post. It’s a Four Seasons or JW Marriot hotel for the Abu Dhabi corniche. To me it perfectly illustrates what too much money expects of architecture. I don’t want this building to be forgotten. I remember it was to have had ‘the seamless detailing of an automobile’ or some such.

      atkins hotel abu dhabi corniche 2008

      It and more than a few other memories (such as 9GGGHH, Beachfront tower and The Riyadh Tower) are included in this pdf document from March 2010. I’m amazed I could still find it online.

      It gives a better picture of late 2008 early 2009 and, although I don’t want to look at it too closely, I may have been responsible for some of the text.