Skyline frenzy

The Dynamic Tower project has got me thinking about skyscrapers in Dubai. Just where is this architectural frenzy taking the city?

COMMENT, Projects

Architect David Fisher's rotating Dynamic Tower project has got me thinking about the state of the skyscraper in Dubai. Just where is this architectural frenzy to establish Dubai's character taking the city?

The irony is that Dubai's skyline is a product of the imaginations of Western architects who are given free rein to do in the Middle East what they can't at home. They design what they want at whichever extremes please them.

They are backed by willing governments and developers with cash. The Trump Organization recently hinted that it might build a skyscraper taller than the Burj Dubai. Why? Because it can.

Where does this leave Dubai? The basic concept of architecture is to marry form and function, and keep it simple. The reason why architectural giants like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright remain legends is because their design philosophy has worked for more than a century.

Nineteenth- and early 20th-century skyscrapers represented wealth, commerce, prestige and power. Once the automobile came along - and subsequently freeways - glass and steel high-rises replaced concrete exteriors, but were also designed to be aesthetically pleasing. In most cases, the American or European skyscraper was understated and elegant. Above all, the skyscraper gave a city a sense of place.

Dubai can't lay claim to understatement and elegance, and certainly not a sense of place. Review the artist's renderings of the Waterfront and it appears that designers have torn a page from the architectural plans of high-density Manhattan. There is block after block of tightly-packed plain office and residential buildings punctuated with an occasional architectural marvel.

Burj Dubai's Grand Boulevard is the modern version of the Avenue des Champs Elysees in Paris. Western architects and planners have stolen bits and pieces of Western urban design and plonked it in the desert.

The result is that Dubai lacks identity. A spectacular skyline, yes. But barely a passing nod is given to Dubai's past, traditions and culture. In their zeal to build a city that gives us the "wow" factor with unconventional shapes and gimmicks, they have stripped Dubai of its cultural identity.

Sometimes when I take a look at the Dubai skyline, I am reminded of an old Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, in which scientists remake an inhospitable desert planet into an artificial environment teeming with waterfalls and stunning greenery.

Things didn't end well for the inhabitants. At the end of the day, restraint and acknowledgment of the existing environment are good things.

Rob Wagner is the editor of Construction Week.

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