One quarter of all the world’s cranes are located in the fastest growing city in the world; Dubai. The paradox is, that in striving for global economic recognition Dubai has become a parody of itself, a mythology of forms; an adult Disneyland built upon the silent deserts of the past.
The emphasis upon ‘landmark’ architecture is primarily driven and controlled by global economics and the quest for recognition upon the global stage. As a result, these new forms lack empathy and humility and have no connection with other complex domains involved in the making of architecture. Analysis of the particular climate, culture and place is absent.
The traditions of the indigenous Bedouin-Arabs founded existence upon an absence of building. Tent architecture was temporary, horizontal, climatically responsive, plastic, lightweight and black. All qualities that sit in stark opposition to the current trend of building in Dubai, expressed as permanent, vertical, un-responsive to climate, static, heavy and usually white. The result is that Dubai has become firmly disconnected from both the concept and spirit of place.
Where camels and their herdsmen roamed 50 years ago we can now find an indoor ski-slope and high-rise apartments. The date palm, an essential element of economic tradition, is given hollow signification through an abstracted plan-form of a new island development, providing no sign, in the semiotic sense, of the long tradition of human reliance upon the palm, for food, shade and survival.
Much of the debate upon sustainable design focuses upon the physical domain. The inclusion of wind turbines and photovoltaic cells might be judged laudable but the complex relationships between climate, culture and place lie largely undisturbed in Dubai. The indigenous traditions of making place are, by definition, sustainable and indeed beautiful, because such traditions have evolved into perfect models.
This paper sets out a hypothesis that by interrogating the Dubai paradigm using phenomenological methodology, architecture of reconciliation may be possible. Such architecture recognises contemporary global driving forces for development but equally, recognises the opportunities held in acknowledging the richness and authenticity of place in making appropriate and thus by implication, sustainable place.