Tag Archives: Dubai

The World sinks into the sea

Another installment in what seems to be an emergent and ill-defined thematic series of Bubble-era vanity projects decaying in the wake of Collapsonomics! Even more ambitious and hubristic than Japan’s Huis ten Bosch, Dubai’s artificial entertainment archipelago, modestly named “The World”, is crumbling away amidst contractual wranglings and other forms of development hell:

The World, Dubai

According to evidence cited before a property tribunal and discovered by the Telegraph, “erosion and deterioration” of the World has been found, with state-run developer Nakheel admitting that the project is “in a coma”. Graham Lovett, speaking on behalf of Nakheel in the tribunal, said: “This is a ten-year project which has slowed down,” but maintained: “this is a project which will be completed.”

Nakheel is part of Dubai World — the conglomerate owned by the gulf state — which was bailed out of $25 billion worth of debts at the end of 2009. The tribunal was set up to hear the cases that emerged from the separation of the companies involved. One of those companies is Penguin Marine, who bought the rights to offer boat travel to the islands — of which all but one are uninhabited. (Greenland, if you’re curious.)

Although Nakheel claims that 70 percent of the islands have been sold, investors have had trouble financing any further work. As a result, while Penguin Marine is paying a million dollars a year to Nakheel, it’s getting very little business, so is trying to exit the contract.

Penguin claims that work on the islands has “effectively stopped”, with Richard Wilmot-Smith, speaking on behalf of the company, telling judges in the tribunal that the islands’ sands are eroding and that the channels between them are silting up. Nakheel disputes this, saying: “Our periodical monitoring survey over the past three years didn’t observe any substantial erosion that requires sand nourishment.”

Now there’s a setting for a novel… where are you, J G Ballard, now that we need you the most?

Bright-greening Dubai

Whatever you may think of Dubai (and however much of it is actually true), you can’t deny that those people know how to dream big. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce has apparently green-lit a plan for a self-sufficient off-grid ecotopian zone, dubbed (with what one presumes is as much hope as anything else) “Food City”. And here’s the proposal from architectural outfit GCLA:

Dubai "Food City" concept

GCLA has described their proposal for Food City as the “the marriage of landscapes and urbanism”. Their project integrates a variety of proposals to decrease overall energy use — concentrated solar collectors, towers covered in thin-film photovoltaic cells, piezoelectric pads in pedestrian areas, and methane harvesting through sewage percolation tanks.

GCLA also proposes water conservation measures critical to off-the-grid survival in water-starved Dubai, like atmospheric water harvesting, solar desalination through concentrated solar collectors, grey water recycling, and application of hydroponic sand to minimize water loss. Essentially, GCLA’s vision is an amalgamation of nearly every urban sustainability initiative in the past few years. It’s certainly utopian, but it may ultimately prove necessary.

Necessary, perhaps; but plausible, practical or realistic? Even assuming the best about Dubai, I’ll be surprised if the application of money and architectural talent alone can build a self-sufficient garden city in one of the dryest places on the planet… but it sure does look pretty. [image copyright GCLA; reproduced under Fair Use terms, contact if takedown required]

The other side of Dubai

Last week I linked to a lengthy article on Dubai that didn’t paint it in an attractive light at all; it was pointed out in the comments (not to mention in many other places around the web) that said article was a bit of a hatchet job.

Via BoingBoing (from whom came the original story) comes a response from Joi Ito, a recent arrival in Dubai:

I’m still new to the region so I can’t speak definitively as a native, but I do know that the picture that is sketched is pretty biased and I think could be rightly called “bashing”. As far as I can tell there is a crunch going on, just like everywhere else, and the government and businesses are trying to figure out what to keep and what to shut down. There are a lot of solid businesses and a lot of solid business people in Dubai and like anywhere else, consolidation and downsizing is taking its toll.


I don’t want to sound too defensive about Dubai or the Middle East in general, but one thing I’ve learned from my still brief time is that it’s much more complicated than it appears. Just calling Muslim law and governance “medieval” and writing it off is ignorant. It’s very different and isn’t in sync with what many of us might think is “fair”. They treat bounced checks and drug smuggling very seriously. Moving to the Middle East casually and assuming that everything should be just like home is dangerous and I wouldn’t recommend it. However, I knew about the drug thing even before I visited and I learned about the “bounced checks land you in jail” thing on my first day.

He’s got some important points there; current media coverage is definitely playing to the backlash against conspicuous consumption and weird financial doings. I lived in Saudi Arabia for three years when I was a kid, and that part of the world operates very differently to the West – culturally, religiously and politically. It’s probably not fair for us to judge entirely based on our own standards.

That said, I don’t think it’s entirely out of line to point out that Dubai is still a very weird set-up indeed, and will quite possibly become an emblem of the attitudes and approaches that led us to our current economic situation.

The utter Ballardian weirdness of Dubai

Sheik Zayed Road, DubaiReading this may take you half an hour, but it’ll be half an hour well spent. Johann Hari of The Independent goes to Dubai and unearths a slice of desert dressed as utopia, full of half-finished buildings, jaded over-moneyed ex-pats and a colossal underclass of what are essentially indentured slaves. I knew the place was bent, but not this badly.

Time doesn’t seem to pass in the malls. Days blur with the same electric light, the same shined floors, the same brands I know from home. Here, Dubai is reduced to its component sounds: do-buy. In the most expensive malls I am almost alone, the shops empty and echoing. On the record, everybody tells me business is going fine. Off the record, they look panicky. There is a hat exhibition ahead of the Dubai races, selling elaborate headgear for £1,000 a pop. “Last year, we were packed. Now look,” a hat designer tells me. She swoops her arm over a vacant space.

I approach a blonde 17-year-old Dutch girl wandering around in hotpants, oblivious to the swarms of men gaping at her. “I love it here!” she says. “The heat, the malls, the beach!” Does it ever bother you that it’s a slave society? She puts her head down, just as Sohinal did. “I try not to see,” she says. Even at 17, she has learned not to look, and not to ask; that, she senses, is a transgression too far.

Between the malls, there is nothing but the connecting tissue of asphalt. Every road has at least four lanes; Dubai feels like a motorway punctuated by shopping centres. You only walk anywhere if you are suicidal. The residents of Dubai flit from mall to mall by car or taxis.

It gets weirder and bleaker as you read through, making you realise that until recently the public veneer of Dubai was very effective in keeping us from seeing what was really happening… that and the complicity of our own willingness to accept what we’re told, of course. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the truth’s always stranger than fiction, because fiction is required to make sense. [image by chorcel]