Local History is Dubai’s Only Hope

Event: Globalization and Local Essences in Dubai
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.07.08
Speakers: Frank Farrokh Sabouri, AIA — Architect, Consultant, Urban Design Guidelines for Jebel Ali (Dubai)
Organizers: AIANY International Committee

Sheikh Zayed Road

Dubai’s desert scarred by skyscrapers and a manmade shoreline.

Lucas Correa-Sevilla

Architect Frank Farrokh Sabouri, AIA, describes architecture in Dubai using the words of Vincent Van Gogh: “Exaggerate the essential and leave the obvious vague.” The “essential,” in this case, is urban development that reflects local culture, while the “obvious” is design based on disconnected western models, says Sabouri. The continual construction of skyscrapers alongside desert highways and the various figurative islands along Dubai’s coast are elements of social seclusion and environmental devastation, and they are not true to the city’s nature.

Architects must have their own social agendas, in addition to clients’ wants, that enhance the inherent conditions and characteristics of a place and its heritage to create meaning, argues Sabouri. This trend is occurring in other places, such as South Korea and Spain. Coop Himmelb(l)au went beyond the client’s program and incorporated a public plaza for the Busan Cinema Complex, for example. The Madrid Public Housing Project by Morphosis is a contemporary take on the traditional Spanish house because it incorporates private courtyards into the design.

In the case of Dubai, a city that has boomed in less than 17 years due to globalization, Sabouri sees hope in its future if architects move away from un-contextual westernized models, and instead focus on the city’s innate characteristics — the desert with a history of trade and nomadic culture. Through the careful study and respect of place, he believes “Dubai can replace absurdity with responsibility.”