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Guggenheim architect slams Dubai's 'cheap' towers

Frank Gehry admits initial reluctance to work on Abu Dhabi museum

NEWS, Business

Legendary architect Frank Gehry has dismissed some of the skyscrapers in Dubai as “cheap” and “anonymous” and revealed he was originally reluctant to work on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, his first project in the Arab world.

Gehry, who has been hailed as “the most important architect of our age" by Vanity Fair magazine, hit out at some of the skyscrapers which have been built in the region.

“The worst thing is when you go to places like Dubai. They're on steroids, but they just end up looking like American or European cities with these anonymous skyscrapers - like every cruddy city in the world,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine.

“One would hope there would be more support from within these places for architecture that responds to the place and culture. That's what I'm trying to do, but, man, no one else seems to be involved with it. It's just cheap copies of buildings that have already been built somewhere else.”

Canadian-born Gehry was commissioned in 2006 to design the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum, which will be his first project in the Arab world and the largest Guggenheim museum in the world.

However, he admitted he was initially hesitant to sign up for the project: “I was a bit reluctant to get engaged in the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. It's so far away and the cultural issues seemed so different. I had never worked in an Arab country.

"What I bought into, when we talked to the sheikhs and the deciders, was that this was going to be a museum for a globalised art culture. I don't know of another museum in the world that will have the resources to show off this new era of contemporary art.”

In 2011 an international coalition of around 43 artists announced they had pledged to snub the Guggenheim Museum Abu Dhabi over worker conditions on Saadiyat Island. Gehry also addressed the human rights issue in his opinion piece.

“We hired a human rights lawyer from Human Rights Watch when we started on the Abu Dhabi project. Both we and our client were interested in making sure the project was in the clear. There was a time when they were being beat up on for the conditions of temporary workers. And they did something about it: They built relatively comfortable camps. These issues are important to me when I take a project.”

Last year, it was announced the iconic museums set for Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island were to be delayed, with the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi pushed back to 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi to 2015 and the Zayed National Museum until 2016. All three had been scheduled to open in 2013.

A spokesperson for Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), the developer behind the Saadiyat Island development, was not immediately available to respond to Gehry’s comments.

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