Panel Questions Future of UAE

Event: Globalization and Local Essences of Modern Development in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.08.09
Speakers: Sudhir S. Jambhekar, FAIA — Senior Partner, FXFOWLE Architects; Frank Sabouri — President, Sustainable Architects, Urban Designers; Brian Kowalchuk, AIA — Director of Design, HDR/CUH2A; Jonathan Stark, AIA — Principal & Director, Perkins Eastman International
Moderator: Noushin Ehsan, AIA — Co-chair, AIANY Global Dialogues Committee & President, 2nd Opinion Design
Organizer: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee


Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Courtesy Google Earth

With four times the land mass and one half the population of New Jersey, the United Arab Emirates is an architectural and urban planning conundrum. With the region’s plethora of extravagant developments, such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, and Atkins Architecture Design Studio’s Burj Al Arab hotel, which boasts a $28,000 price tag for one night in its Royal Suite, Dubai and Abu Dhabi leave most first-time visitors scratching their heads in awe.

Lacking a holistic strategy for urban planning, development in the two emirates is “object-centric not place-centric,” said Frank Sabouri, president of Sustainable Architects. Sabouri cites work by Ateliers Jean Nouvel and Snøhetta as signs of more meaningful cultural trends in the region. With a population comprised of 85% foreigners and 15% natives, it is debatable exactly which culture design in the UAE should reflect. Sudhir Jambhekar, FAIA, senior partner at FXFOWLE Architects, believes that international designers are reinterpreting Islamic ideas in the UAE. Just as western culture has been influenced by Islamic design and engineering — the use of water as a cooling element, for example — Jambhekar sees an opportunity for the west to adapt its concepts for developments in the UAE.

With such a sparse population density in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, moderator Noushin Ehsan, AIA, asked, “If we build it, will they come?” A similar construction boom in China, Ehsan observed, differs in that a swelling population demands development. The UAE, however, currently lacks a demographic to justify the employment of 25% of the world’s construction cranes. Perhaps foresight and optimism will prove beneficial in time. With an estimated $335 billion worth of UAE projects on hold or cancelled due to the economic downturn, the precocious business minds responsible for the rise of these instant global cities have their work cut out for them. Based on the achievements of what has become home to some of the most awe-inspiring architectural feats, we haven’t heard the last from the UAE.