Dubai: Rising from the Sand

Back in the 1950s, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, former Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, envisaged a 'great city rising from the sand.' The result is Dubai as it is today

by 24 September 2010

Over the past 30 years, Dubai has undergone immense changes, and these have dramatically affected both the city’s coastline and its skyline. From an aircraft, you can see the extraordinarily-shaped islands blossoming from the mainland, and at street level, the scene is dominated by magnificent skyscrapers that tower high above the desert. With countless artificial islands and constructions already in existence and many more in the pipeline, Dubai is without doubt redesigning its landscape with a remarkable vision of the future.

Dubai's ability to create artificial islands is second to none. While "The World," an ambitious project for 300 islands offered to private investors, has suffered from excessive debt, there is no doubt that Nakheel, the contractors responsible for building it, have developed remarkable techniques in creating land where previously there was sea. Even though there may be question marks over "The World's" future, as it stands this 9 km long, 7 km-wide development covers a total area of 5.5 million square metres, and is visible to the naked eye from outer space. It was created using both land reclamation and terra-forming techniques. Land reclamation is the process of creating new land, in this case artificial islands from the sea. It is a process which has been used widely around the world. Terra-forming, on the other hand, allows for more of a personal touch on each plot of land or island. By simply adding or removing the surrounding area, islands can be customized and shaped as desired.

Similar land reclamation processes have been used in other architectural developments throughout the United Arab Emirates in the creation of numerous marinas, hotels and other architectural developments.

From the horizontal scale to the vertical, shooting straight up into the desert sky is an infinity of skyscrapers making up Dubai’s skyline. Among these, the Burj Al Arab has become synonymous with Dubai. It was designed by British architect Tom Wright to resemble the sail of the traditional Arabic dhow boat.

Work on the Burj Al Arab began in 1994. Upon its completion in 1999, it automatically became a landmark for Dubai. Most of the actual construction process focused on the creation of the artificial island on which the Burj Al Arab stands. Burj Al Arab (which means simply ‘Tower of the Arabs’) is 321 metres in height. It accommodates a luxury seven-star hotel with the same name, part of the Jumeirah group, which is currently the second tallest hotel in the world (after the Rose Tower, also in Dubai). With 202 suites that range from one to three bedrooms, nine restaurants and bars, a spa, and, at a height of 182 meters, the tallest atrium in the world, this hotel offers the most extravagant accommodation to its guests.

While Burj Al Arab is already spectacular, it is almost dwarfed by other buildings on the Dubai skyline. In fact, the city has the tallest building in the world. At a height of almost a kilometre, 828 meters to be precise, the Burj Khalifa belittles everything in its surroundings. Not surprisingly, it has been one of the most intensely showcased architectural developments in recent times, partly for the many records that it has broken: the building with most floors, world's highest elevator, world's fastest elevators, the highest mosque, highest swimming pool, and many others. The Burj Khalifa was designed by the global architecture, urban planning, interior design and engineering firm SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill). Construction began in 2004, and involved a team of over 90 SOM designers and engineers. The building was inaugurated on 4 January 2010. It is home to the very first Armani Hotel, as well as private luxury condominiums.

While the vagaries of the world economy have affected Dubai, there is no doubt that this unique cityscape will continue to develop in the future, keeping up with the spirit of the age and defying land, water and gravity. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Sheikh Rashid's son) wrote, in an Arabic poem, "It takes a man of vision to write on water..."

UAE Fall 2010