Already on the map as a hub for transport and business in the Middle East, the city of Dubai is cementing its role as a focal point for creativity
Located on the Persian Gulf and part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the 35 square-kilometre city of Dubai is growing at a rapid pace. It is home to some of the world's tallest skyscrapers and a population that is made up of 95 per cent expatriates. The result is a melting pot of cultural influences – a gleaming city where so much is new or under construction. This presents plenty of opportunities for designers, both local and foreign, to make their mark. Like its close neighbour, Abu Dhabi where a new Louvre Museum opened last month, Dubai uses architecture and cultural institutions to expand its appeal to visitors and to broaden its economy.
Among those to put their stamp on the emirate are Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the architectural services firm behind Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. It stands 828m tall and houses residences, corporate suites and retail spaces.
The glass-clad tower took inspiration from the geometry of the region's desert flowers and its various patterns are a modern interpretation of Islamic architectural forms. It also uses a unique ventilation system, drawing cool air in through the pinnacle of the tower.
Burj Khalifa until very recently claimed the world's highest observation deck, 555m above ground and on the 148th floor (Shanghai Tower's is a few metres higher). Visitors can also head to the 124th and 125th floors for stomach-dropping views of the city and the Gulf beyond.
There are already a number of other super-tall skyscrapers in Dubai designed by international names, including Tom Wright's sail-like Burj Al Arab, which he worked on while at Atkins design consultancy. The Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel is considered one of the most luxurious hotels in the world and one of its tallest. Burj Al Arab sits on its own artificial island, and offers various opportunities for fine dining.
Another skyscraper that defines Dubai's skyline is Cayan Tower, and its innovative, rotating form makes it well worth a look – from the outside at least. Designed by SOM, this residential tower features a 90-degree twist as it rises to 307m; it has won various awards since it was completed in 2013.
Perhaps the best way to experience Dubai's skyline – as well as its history as a key port on the ancient spice route – is from the water, and Bateaux Dubai is a glamorous way to do this. The fully air-conditioned, glass-enclosed boat offers cruises complete with gourmet food and a twotiered outdoor deck.
Etihad Museum is another wonder of modern design. Located on the waterfront next to Union House, the birthplace of the UAE, the museum was designed by Moriyama & Teshima Architects. Above ground, a curvaceous structure situated next to a shimmering pool of water represents the parchment on which the UAE unification agreement was signed in 1971. Much of the museum is located underground, and it presents the history of the UAE.
Then there's the recently opened dhow-shaped Dubai Opera House located in Downtown Dubai. Designed by Danish architect Janus Rostock of Atkins in the Middle East, the structure houses a 2,000-seat theatre, which can morph between theatre, concert hall and flat-floored exhibition space. The space is illuminated by a dynamically lit sculpture titled Symphony by Czech designer Libor Sošťák for bespoke glass producer Lasvit.
This is an excerpt from the “Desert Dynamism" article from the December 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.
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