Dubai Studio

IntroductionTruly exceptional and spectacular urbanization has taken–is taken–place in the Emirate of Dubai, prompted by a confluence of three unique conditions. First, the oil-fueled economy of the 1970\’s has given way to a by far more diverse economy, with great recent interest in real estate and finance supporting developments in the areas of leisure and tourism. Second, the unique socio-political circumstances of a powerful minority local population co-existing with a multicultural majority of foreign workers have created a city-state, a \”world city\” with a centralized power structure that acts as the center of a large world region. Added to these two conditions there is, thirdly, the very special Dubaian \”taste\” for urbanism and development, responsible for the unique formal characteristics of Dubai.This exceptional situation, as remarkable or fascinating as it is, may not by itself warrant academic interest from those of us teaching and practicing urbanism. However, there are indications that what is unfolding in Dubai is symptomatic of similar approaches to development in other regions as well. It is precisely this \”model potential\” that makes Dubai a most appropriate case study in urbanization today; in a sense, Dubai has become \”required reading\”: a critique needs to be articulated and new (better) strategies should be proposed.What exactly is taking place there, what is this \”urban taste,\” so unabashedly emphatic, so superlative seeking – a taste responsible for the tallest, the biggest, the most expensive, supreme life styles, etc.-, being at work there? At the risk of oversimplification, we can mention the following found characteristics of Dubai: it is an automobile dependant city, a spatially fragmented city and a socially polarized city (a metropolis made out of \”cities\” and \”villages\”), a city both curiously over-infrastructured (i.e. information technology infrastructure) and simultaneously under-infrastructured (i.e. public transportation infrastructure). It is a city in which there is an ongoing attempt to invent a \”vernacular,\” as paradoxical as this may sound (to islamicize, to arabize, to differentiate it from other cities, etc.). It is also a city where the production of the \”unique\” and the \”iconic\” is so abundant that it may in the end become a self-defeating practice. But above all it is the bold and resolute practice of the Visionary and the Fantastic that marks the urbanity of Dubai.In the course of Western architecture and urbanism there is a long history attached to the Ideal, the Visionary and the Fantastic as notions that have structured other, at times marginal practices, running parallel to mainstream architectural practices. This history will be studied from this studio\’s viewpoint, commencing with the category-defying works of Jean-Jaques Lequeu and including recent manifestations, architectonic or otherwise, of this sensibility in cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando or Shanghai.The relationships among these three aforementioned conditions and consumerisms, the role of pleasure, the importance of desire in the generation of wonder, urban theatricality, the new sublime, the unprecedented and, above all, reality, will also be considered. This research will help us to locate Dubai within the history of urban imagination and in relation to imagineered urbanism.Site To begin with, the site is the Dubai metropolitan area itself. Within it there are four types of sites:First, there is the existing city itself, a long and narrow strip of land along the coast; within it there are two distinctive parts: the old traditional city flanking both sides of the Dubai Creek and the new, originally lineal city along Sheikh Zayed Road.Second there is the Gulf water itself. Several projects are being built in offshore; some as far as a few kilometers from the original coast, and at least one is unde