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Master Planning with a Land Rover — John Elliott, Town Planner of Abu Dhabi In conversation with WATG architects about the design of Emirati palaces, it came to be known that one of WATG’s head architects, John Elliott, was one of the first planners and architects in Abu Dhabi. According to his curriculum vitae, Elliott has arguably designed more hotels and resorts than any architect in the world. But before achieving this superlative, he had been the first town planner for Abu Dhabi. Envisioning Abu Dhabi’s first houses, schools, and roads, Elliott’s plans materialized Sheikh Zayed’s vision to introduce his Bedouin citizens to city living.

Makers I

I don’t know how much of a story you want, so I’ll tell you the whole story. One day in 1966, a guy called Freddy Webb was walking down Chiswick High Street. It was a hot day in August. He felt very thirsty, so he went into a pub for a drink in the afternoon. Standing next to him at the bar was this tall guy. The tall guy said, ‘I work in Abu Dhabi. There’s going to be a dramatic change there.’ This all had to do with oil – the Iranians had nationalized the Abadan refi nery and the British-Iranian Oil Company was going to follow. And… the Brits needed the oil. Further nationalization in the region would have stopped any further oil development. You can see the picture of what happened. Suddenly in 1966, a new sheikh comes to power in Abu Dhabi. If you’ve read any of the books of Thesiger’s journeys in the region, you’d know about Sheikh Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s then new sheikh – extremely intelligent, an incredible leader of men, lovely man. Under the sponsorship of the British, oil was discovered to be of very high grade in Abu Dhabi, and Abu Dhabi suddenly boomed. It came about that the prediction that this guy made had been absolutely right. In 1966 the consortium Arabicon was formed with some engineers and architects. One day in that year they came to me and said, ‘John, you did some planning in Sweden and Finland. We’ve got an amazing project for you. There’s this island in Abu Dhabi. Do a master plan.’ So, we were sketching away a master plan of the island. John Elliott —

Todd Reisz —

How old were you?

I was 29. I really didn’t know what I was doing. It was to take Abu Dhabi island – there were no real roads; the electricity was down all the time; there was no water. We produced a whole series of plans. The best one they ignored. I proposed that we dig a series of canals from one side to the other side, right across the island. The island was very low, only five feet above sea level. Everything for construction – cement, steel – was coming in by barge as there were no roads. The waters were low, so everything had to be kept offshore. JE —


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My proposition was they could distribute canals and develop the island. The major roads would go in the perpendicular direction with bridges over the canals. Very logical. But it was too much for Abu Dhabi to take and they didn’t develop it. Now people are building canals all over the place in Abu Dhabi. I guess nobody is a prophet in his own land… TR —

You were the resident town planner, so you moved to Abu Dhabi?

Yes, with my kids. We ran the town planning department in a little office in a semi-air-conditioned building. It was funky stuff, right out of the Wild West. We drove around in Land Rovers, had a little stand-by generator. Water was delivered by tanker. Now people are into saving water – my God, did we save water! Really, it was great fun. Sheikh Zayed was an incredible client. I got to see him two or three times a week.

JE —

TR —

He was integral in the planning process, right?

Yes, every day. Sheikh Zayed would draw with a camel stick in the sand. He asked one day, ‘Do you think that we should educate women?’ I said, ‘Yes, why not? Because otherwise, one day, the kids are going to grow up with an educated father and an uneducated mother. Who’s going to run the society?’ Three weeks later, he said, ‘I want you to build a girls’ school here and a boys’ school over there. They must be at least one hundred yards apart.’ From that we did a whole series of things. One of the things that I did at my house in Abu Dhabi was to make an irrigation system, in which you take all of the bath water, put it into a tank and separate out the gray water. I welded two oil drums together. We took seaweed – we had a house right on the beach – put it into the welded drums, added baby droppings as a catalyzer and a little more seaweed on top. Out of the bottom, you get really nice earth in about two weeks. So I could keep a green garden in the desert. One day Zayed turned up to see this little garden and we became very close through this whole gardening thing. I was explaining to him how Abu Dhabi should really have parks and that there should be tree-lined boulevards. He loved England. He used to go there a lot. He loved the green. I would like to think that I was one of the contributing factors to Abu Dhabi being green. Then we changed from being a planning office to being an architecture office. We did little jobs – villas for petroleum companies, office quarters for the Abu Dhabi defense force, schools. Then they took the census and discovered that there were 36,000 Abu Dhabians. Zayed said, ‘Right, we’ll have national housing.’ He didn’t want the Bedouins wandering all over JE —

AMO 169

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Gulf Survey

It was a waste of time by asking which plans. We had a whole set of plans, threw them into the back of the Land Rover and drove off to find Zayed in the desert.

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the place with the goats and sheep. So we had little villages of national houses. Each had a front garden and a back garden; the Bedouins would sleep on the roof. We built these villages all over Abu Dhabi. Some of them still exist, I’m amazed to say. TR —

Where are they?

If you drive up the highway in Abu Dhabi, there are just a few of them left. They are a bit tiny. Every site had to be 80 feet x 80 feet. The Bedouins kept the sheep and the animals in the garden. The whole idea was to urbanize the Bedouins, and this village housing project was part of the whole education and urban and social development project. I’ll tell you a nice story. One day there was a knock on my door just before dawn, just before the prayer. They said, ‘John, come, bring the plans.’ And it was a waste of time by asking which plans. We had a whole set of plans, threw them into the back of the Land Rover and drove off to fi nd Zayed in the desert. When we found Zayed, he said, ‘We’re going to have a village from here.’ When he said, ‘here,’ he was looking for a marker. There was nothing, just sand, literally with nothing more than a stone or a tree. There were four soldiers in the Land Rover behind him. He snapped his fi ngers and one jumped down. Zayed placed the soldier and said, ‘Here…’ He then took another soldier, put him in the sand at the next corner of the future village and said ‘…to here.’ He did this about three or four times. Then he just drove off to his palace. I said, ‘Your highness, there are still four soldiers in the desert.’ He said, ‘Bedouins!’ As if to say, ‘Don’t be stupid. They are Bedouins. They’ll fi nd their way back.’ JE —

Makers I

You said, there were no trees, no hills. So what did you use as a reference to design a city?

TR —

Exactly, you have to sort it out. We had to relate it to the dunes. In Al Ain, for instance, it was especially related to where the water was, because it was a big complex of aflaaj 1, the irrigation systems that run the water from the basic spring in different directions. These are well documented. Little bits belong to particular families, so these villages were actually subdivided JE —

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Abu Dhabi aerial photograph, 1963

25 Years Progress

Sheikh Zayed with fellow traveller, 1949

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into family neighborhoods. Extended families would get a village of twenty or thirty houses. Zayed knew how the aflaaj were and knew how the villages should be laid out. TR — Then did you rely on traditional British town planning or modernist ideas of the quickest route from A to B?

It’s funny, because I did my post-graduate work in Finland and in Sweden. And of course they had totally different background concepts for what planning is all about – especially in Scandinavia where you built things into the trees and into the landscape. That was really much more of the way that developments in Abu Dhabi occurred, more than with the traditional British grid or the Corbusian. It came out of trying to be sympathetic with the landscape. JE —

TR —

So, you did try to do that?

Yes, and of course there were still a lot of traditional villages, which were all very organic. They had grown in a way that worked with tribal dynamics, and we tried to keep the same patterns. The last thing that we wanted was to have straight lines. With the orthogonal being out, they were orientated in traditional ways.

JE —

Do these places you designed still exist in Abu Dhabi?

Some bits still exist. Unfortunately, there came road engineering. Then came traffic rules, like high speed curbs and roads that are unnecessarily wide… These were all of low value, so as the families developed, they moved on to elsewhere. TR —

Gulf Survey

TR — JE —

And your house?

Oh, my house went many, many years ago. My house was next to the church. The church had been given a piece of land by Sheikh Zayed. It was amazing how far-thinking he was. Christians were so few then. The church was a little, prefabricated Australian house. It’s not there anymore; it eventually moved way out. But the nuns – the Little Sisters of Mercy – are still there, still running a small primary school.

JE —

Why did you leave as town planner?

TR —


TR —

In 1970, Britain planned to leave the region. Socialist, Harold Wilson, the stupid idiot said, ‘No, no, we’re not going East at all. We’re pulling out.’ Zayed begged him to stay, saying he’d pay them to stay. But no, they moved out. The whole of the British regime – the police were British, the army was British, the civil service – all that was out. When I was there, the postmaster was a guy from Cardiff. All of that obviously had to grow and change. Actually, the Brits were always pretty good at pulling out. And others – the Lebanese, the Syrians and the Egyptians – all moved in to take over the job. Of course there was this whole process in Abu Dhabi: Emiratization of the workforce.

JE —

So basically when the Brits left, you had to leave….

I didn’t have to, but I had been working 16 hours a day for three years, and I was burned out. I had two small children. My eldest daughter was actually the first European child born in Abu Dhabi. And she’s called Maya because of that. So, I just moved on.

JE —

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1. Plural form of falaj: an Emirati word for an underground irrigation system, some going back more than three thousand years.

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Witness to Kuwait — Jeff de Lange’s Extended Expat Contract Jeff de Lange has lived in the Gulf for more than thirty years. His story starts with Kuwait’s seminal attempts to grow local architects and planners. He now works at one of the region’s most well established local consulting groups, Gulf Consult, where he is director for all planning, leisure, and transportation commissions undertaken by the company.

Todd Reisz — You have been in Kuwait for a significant component of its development, from a mostly inconsequential harbor town to what it is today.

That is true, and I’ve worked for the government on three different occasions and the private sector on two different occasions. Looking back on it, the Kuwait lifestyle has changed significantly in my time here since the mid-70s. When I arrived in January 1974, Kuwait had a population of about a million. In the 1950s, it was still only 90,000 people. It’s three million now. Jeff de Lange —

Makers I

When you first arrived in Kuwait, you worked for the municipality, with the town planner Hamid Shuaib…

TR —

In 1969 the Kuwaiti government had commissioned Colin Buchanan and Partners to undertake Kuwait’s fi rst comprehensive master plan. Almost every government ministry was desperately looking for Western expertise back then. Consequently, Hamid Shuaib, the chief architect and town planner of the municipality, concluded that they would set up a program to bring in Western professionals to work with their Kuwaiti counterparts. There were six of us who were hired to fill this role: three town planners and three traffic engineers. In the process I found Kuwait committed to the planning process. The Kuwaitis who had earlier worked with Colin Buchanan were very strong professionally and inspiring for the government side. Hamid was always my professional mentor. We ended up being strong competitors when later we were in private practice, but despite that, he was still my mentor. He was one of the loveliest men, a super man.

JdL —

In addition to Buchanan, there was also the presence of some famous European architects, for example the Smithsons and the Pietiläs. Did this direction come from the government? Lily Jencks —

There were a couple of far-sighted people in the cabinet who made it a national strategy to put the city on the world map. The government’s desire to have some high profile individual architects and keynote buildings was set within a proper framework of the city master plan.

JdL —

TR —

What did you actually do while working for the city?

My fi rst stay in Kuwait was only 18 months. It had been an adventure but also a culture shock! I left to return to work in the UK but was drawn back in 1977. After a number of years in the private sector, I joined the Ministry of Public Works in 1983. It was a golden time in the ministry: it was managing projects well, and big-name, foreign consultants once again became interested in Kuwait. I headed the section that evaluated JdL —


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consultants’ proposals and scopes-of-work for major building projects. Around that time the US federal government sent over a group of seven architects to help manage the commissioning of big projects. I worked with them as the only non-American. We were brought in to sort out and run big projects, which helped give new confidence to international architects that Kuwait was the place in the region to do work. Firms like The Architects Collaborative (TAC) and SOM started to have a presence. Did this shift from British to American presence represent something larger? TR —

I feel that there’s always been a preference to go to America for architecture and Britain for engineering and planning. In the 1980s, Kuwait embarked on a huge motorway program that was totally dominated by British fi rms, for instance.

JdL —

What were the other major projects in the 1980s that your team was overseeing?

TR —

In the early 1980s, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah offered to host the meeting of the Islamic Conference Organization in 1987. This invitation would transform Kuwait City. Suddenly, a conference center, palatial palaces, guest houses and significant infrastructure improvements had to be designed and built in a time frame of a few years. The Bayan Palace was completed for the event. It was designed and built in about two-and-a-half years – a record time in the region. For this building rush, the American team introduced Kuwait to the concept of construction management. This represented a huge step in Kuwait’s development capabilities. Then in 1990, I was head-hunted by the Prime Minister of Bahrain and went to Bahrain to work for four years. In 1994 I made my way back to Kuwait to work for Gulf Consult. I’ve been back in Kuwait ever since then.

JdL —

Gulf Survey

TR —

What was the social climate of Kuwait at this time?

In the 80s, Kuwait was booming because Lebanon was suffering from civil war. But there were still troubles in the background. There was a suicide attack on HH the Amir, and there were coordinated attacks on the American and the French embassies and other government installations. These were shocks to the system. Earlier on a major issue for the government was trying to figure out how to distribute the oil wealth. One of the significant ways they chose was to acquire land and buildings from people and give them new land in newly created suburbs. They gave them money as well, according to how many family members, how many children, how poor they were. So land was acquired and buildings demolished, not so much for redevelopment need as to distribute wealth to the community. That’s why there still remain large plots of vacant land in the city even today. And that’s the way they created suburbs between the fi rst and the second ring roads, and the third ring road, and the fourth ring road. By the late 70s to early 80s they stopped this method of acquiring land and distributing money.

JdL —


And how do you find the proposal for Silk City? Do you see it as an attempt to change the tide of Kuwait planning? TR —

I believe that Silk City has no urban planning or design significance

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JdL —

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Silk City – article in a Kuwaiti newspaper

whatsoever. It’s to be taken merely as a positive sign of the development companies of Kuwait wanting to draw the government’s attention by saying, ‘Look! Maybe the time has come to start involving the private sector in some of these big jobs.’ Nothing more than that. I should stress though that the municipality has planned to build a major government-sponsored city on the same site, Subiya, since the 1970s and that project is significant. TR —

So that would be a change in tide.

It’s a change in emphasis, but since the mid-1990s, there’s been a move toward BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) as a way of achieving projects. Now the government is turning to BOT procedures more and more for doing almost everything. Development companies are using BOTs to achieve many things in the city and proposing that huge chunks of the city be developed by private companies in place of the state. It’s a way that private capital is used as one of the key motivators in achieving development.

JdL —

Makers I

Just about every urban location on the peninsula has something that looks like the Silk City proposal…

TR —

Yes, I’ve got positive feelings about the need to see a property-planned new city up north, but for Kuwaitis there’s a huge emotional tie to Kuwait City. I would say, from an urban design point of view, it would be inappro-


Courtesy of Gulf Consult

JdL —

Subiya new town master plan by Gulf Consult

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priate to have a major high-rise anywhere other than in the old city center. TR —

Is there a trend among Kuwaiti developers to diversify?

Yes, Kuwaitis should never be underestimated for their fi nancial development clout. For twenty or thirty years, many Kuwaiti fi rms have operated with their head offices in London or New York. They keep a low profi le in Kuwait. You come to Kuwait and wonder, where are all the corporate offices that you see in Dubai? The reason they’re not in Kuwait is that they’re too big. They’re actually running out of London and elsewhere. JdL —

TR —

Is there a push to change that?

Well, Kuwaitis have always invested abroad. If you look back 150 years, they were traders in Asia and East Africa. With Iraq’s regime change, Kuwaiti investment companies are now positively investing more in not only Kuwait but other parts of the Middle East, North Africa and South Africa.

JdL —

We would like to ask you how the life of expats has changed since you’ve been in Kuwait and how the mix of nationalities has changed. We understand that expats make up about 66% of the population.

LJ —

There’s been a consistent one-Kuwaiti-to-two-foreigners rate since before I came to Kuwait. Recently there’s been one major change, which occurred as a consequence of the Iraqi invasion. Up until 1990 the civil service and the many parts of the business sector were staffed by Palestinians, who, because of political confl ict, were living here in Kuwait on a permanent basis. They had their wives and children here. After the 1991 liberation, there was a great reduction in the number of Palestinians living in the country. Now their positions have been mostly replaced by Egyptians. The Egyptians tend to live here without wives and children, who prefer to stay in their home country. The proportion of foreigners to citizens has remained almost exactly the same; except proportionally, there’s been a reduction in the number of foreign families and an increase in bachelors. There’s a lot of mobility in the labor market, about half the expat population experiences a very fast turnover. Before 1990, Westerners came here for adventure or fun. Money was important, but there were a lot of things in life other than money. Whereas now, Western people seem to be much more focused on financial gain – covering alimony, or earning the down payment for a first house. There’s much less motivation on the part of the Western expat to learn about the country they’re in.

JdL —

Gulf Survey AMO

TR —

Has that changed how expats are approached by Kuwaitis?

No, Kuwaitis are extremely welcoming. But as the country has become much bigger, a lot of expats don’t even get the opportunity to meet Kuwaitis. There are two million foreigners: roughly half a million Pakistanis, half a million Indians, at least three quarters of a million other Arabs – Egyptians, Syrians, Yemeni, Palestinians… And we’re all mixed up, I would say. In our company, Gulf Consult, we’ve got 23 nationalities.

JdL —

TR — JdL —

Now are you permanently settled in Kuwait?


TR —

And you won’t go back to England?

Well, we have a house in England but no, not in terms of my working career at any rate.

JdL —


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Makers I 188

Stills from an 8 mm film shot by Jeff de Lange. Kuwait, May 1975 Top row: From inside Kuwait Towers under construction, the old town center and Emir’s Palace. 2nd row left and center: Main shopping street. right: Town Governorate and Police Force. 3rd row centre: Municipality built in the early 70s, still functioning today. 4th row: Old seafront – long gone. 5th row centre: British Embassy, still fully functional. right: Liberation Tower, world’s 5th tallest structure, stands here now. bottom row: Village of Doha, dhow building center.

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Gulf Survey AMO

Top row: Typical houses of the 60s and 70s in Western suburbs. 2nd row right: American Mission Hospital, now a national monument. 3rd and 4th rows: Mubarakiya Souk in town center – parts still remain today. 5th and bottom rows: Old Gold Souk in town center, redeveloped in the old style some 15 years ago.


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Fairness — Carlos Ott Forgets to Sign ‘What’s good for the merchant is good for Dubai.’ – Dubai’s motto, the late Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum

The Gulf’s motives are simple, and you could say that simple is fair. A region of transparent ends, it harbors no hesitation to expand on vision and strategy. The Gulf makes for exciting work, but it also demands a broad acceptance of risk. Clarity of ends does not entail the clarity of means. The Gulf has time to hear your ideas, but not to tolerate your bitterness. In August, 2006, AMO spoke with the optimist and Uruguayan architect Carlos A. Ott about his extensive experience in the Gulf. Ott demonstrates an architect’s adept ability to relativize loss and to accept that a region’s accelerated development cannot compensate for the bruised egos of architects.

Carlos Ott Architect

Makers I Opéra de la Bastille, Paris


During the 200th anniversary celebrations for Bastille Day, the UAE’s cultural diplomat Sheikh Nahyan attended the opening of the Bastille Opera House in Paris. I had designed the building. He invited me to come to Abu Dhabi to learn about some projects. I would eventually design the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. The Gulf is very open to foreign architects, and their leaders are the architect’s true clients. Sheikh Nahyan was a very powerful person. I told him the building should avoid the usual Arabic pastiche style. Convincing Nahyan was the way toward breaking that pattern. Because he backed the design, it was built. The Gulf wants more from architects than you might think. Our second competition was National Bank of Dubai. They rejected all the submissions. I said, ‘Give me 30 days, and I will show you something you will like.’ They agreed. This was at the same time as the fi rst Gulf War. There were no flights over the Arabian peninsula, so I had to fly via Pakistan… getting models through x-rays was nearly impossible. They liked it and it was built. The bank’s chairman was an old gentleman, Ali Al Owais. He was 85 years old and the richest man in Dubai. He had a run-down office in the middle of Deira. I wanted to talk about a building, and he about poetry – Arabic and Spanish. The influence of Arabic on the Spanish language and vice versa. I would sit down for hours, drinking tea, eating dates, talking

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Carlos Ott Architect

Carlos Ott Architect

Gulf Survey

National Bank of Abu Dhabi

National Bank of Dubai

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Carlos Ott Architect


Mirror Image? Burj Al Arab, Tom Wright of WS Atkins (left) and ANTEL Telecommunications, Carlos A. Ott Architects (right)

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Makers I

about Andalucía and the importance of the Alhambra. I could not imagine sitting like that with Mr. Rockefeller. The Middle East turns on the opinions of strong rulers. Their opinions make cities. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has single-handedly made Dubai into an international city. He made Dubai in ten years. These leaders know a horizon, a goal – whether or not you agree with them – that of creating an important city, an important country. They are today’s Haussmann. You may not agree that Haussmann was right in rebuilding Paris. But they’ve all done it. Dubai has lost some things … perhaps its original quaintness. But the grand, tall buildings along Sheikh Zayed Road, the new airport, the new metro, the islands, etc. – they’re creating an image the world can’t ignore. The UAE was dead, after the first Gulf War. We were competing with a sea of local fi rms for few projects. My most horrible experience as an architect. I was once asked to make a conceptual design for an iconic hotel on Dubai’s coast. I locked myself in my hotel for two weeks. I came up with a proposal for the Burj Al Arab… identical to the building that stands today. I had done the sketches in pencil. Quick drawings without my name on them. I submitted them to a satisfied client. We would see each other in a month’s time. One month later I learned my contact had been fi red and the project halted. Three years later, I saw the building being built. It was my fault. I had not included my name on the drawings. Sketches with Prisma colors on blue Canson paper. Since they didn’t know whose drawings they were, someone else was asked to build it, and they did. My fault. My building was identical to Burj Al Arab, but a bit taller. Main concepts – building in the water, a sail motif, a restaurant with an aquarium – were my ideas. You can see on my website a building I did at the same time. The two share the same concept.

Burj Al Arab seen from the backside

It was the first idea for a building in the water. You can see Dubai’s

future development took this idea further. The experience spoiled my relationship with myself, not with Dubai.


I was a typical idiotic architect. I could not blame anybody but myself. When I drive by and look at the building, I say, ‘Oh, what an idiot I was.’ It looks a bit like a roach from the back. The building that we did in Montevideo is much cleaner and taller. And those diagonal elements on the façade were not my idea. But anyway…

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Abner Mckenzie

Gulf Survey

Carlos Ott at work


But I have many buildings built in the region. Some are in planning now. I know many of these emirates and their leaders. They are all amazing in their own ways. If you start with a tabula rasa, then everything is questionable. Dubai’s vision is now mostly in the ground. Not so for other Gulf cities. They will want to defi ne themselves against Dubai’s mistakes. In Dubai, we made mistakes because it was new. Remember. St. Petersburg was built overnight. Florence during a time of Tuscan prosperity. Same with Haussmann’s Paris. Wealth comes in short-lived spurts and needs to be taken advantage of when it is there. Obviously, many mistakes are being made. Errarum humanum est.


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Frontline The Gulf is the current frontline of rampant modernization: a feverish production of urban substance, on sites where nomads roamed unmolested only half a century ago. The Gulf – its initial development triggered by the discovery of oil – is undergoing hyper-development to ready for oil’s eventual depletion. Since it is the site of greatest urban production and because it occupies territory where there was no previous (urban) occupation, The Gulf represents the essence of the current city in its pure form. Gulf Cities are in construction now. This means they are, inevitably, based on the repertoire of current urban prototypes – communities (themed & gated), hotels (themed), skyscrapers (tallest), shopping centers (largest), airports (doubled) – cemented together by Public Space, extended soon with boutique hotel, museum franchise and masterpiece. In its current state, it is a landscape of vast means and ambition, translated with gargantuan effort into ambiguous and sometimes disappointing results, a kind of farewell performance of the ‘Urban’ that has become threadbare through sheer age and lack of invention. If you want to be apocalyptic, you could construe Dubai as evidence of the-end-of-architecture-and-the-city-as-we-know-them; more optimistically you could detect in the emerging substance of The Gulf – constructed and proposed – the beginnings of a new architecture and of a new city. Some of The Gulf developments are bound to remain unique to it; most announce an imminent transformation of the urban condition itself. A reading of The Gulf suggests the following imminent inevitabilities… 1. The city is no longer generated by a plan; it has become a patchwork of developers’ increments. Instead of aiming for intensification, the city is now conceived to soothe and relax; the ultimate typology of the urban increment has become the resort. The aesthetics of rigour – the grid – has been defeated by the aesthetics of the organic, the geometrical by the approximative… Themes are the only viable means of distinction; Regularity, Utilitarian and the Utopian have a future only as themes. 2. Infrastructure is no longer conceptual anticipation, but pragmatic afterthought.

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3. Cities no longer have a natural, but an ‘assembled’ population. The assembly consists of those who are attracted with various incentives – tourists, expats – and those who help to sustain its attraction – builders, cooks, masseurs. Cities are now inhabited by the pampered and the pamperers. 4. Density is virtual. Almost everybody who lives in Dubai also lives somewhere else… The actual inhabitation of the city is a fraction of its maximum capacity. (That also explains why the implausible calculations of the engineers never come back to haunt them.) Systematic absenteeism creates a sense of civic hollowness across ever larger areas of the globe. The public realm has been replaced by Public Space, politics by design…

6. For architecture, The Gulf represents, simultaneously, the apotheosis and the ultimate democratization of the icon. The collapse of a whole series of earlier legitimizations of architecture – function, efficiency, organization, originality: all exiled to the realm of the big yawn – creates a titanic struggle on an infinitely reduced battlefield. The ubiquity of extravagance creates fewer and fewer opportunities for distinction; it will therefore erase the distinctions between the first, second and third rate… The winner will be the one who walks away from this battle first…


7. Both the urbanism and the architecture of The Gulf are clearly unsustainable: sustainability will be the regime that will impose radical change and revision on a brand-new model of urban life. For that very reason – call it historical inevitability or sheer coincidence of timing – The Gulf will also be the terrain where the current crisis of the metropolis will be confronted. The limitations of the current architectural repertoire are so comprehensive and destructive that it has become unthinkable to rely on them as a toolbox for the future.

Gulf Survey

5. Because they are provisional, the inhabitants of such a city will have a radically different stake in its future. Since they will never be citizens, they feel a conditional loyalty; they will not constitute a polis, but a provisional community of the disenfranchised… They will abandon at the first sign of trouble.

8. Eventually, The Gulf will reinvent the public and the private: the potential of infrastructure to promote the whole rather than favor fragmentation; the use and abuse of landscape – golf or the environment?; the coexistence of many cultures in a new authenticity rather than a Western Modernist default; experiences instead of Experience™ – city or resort? – RK


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Cityscape 2006 Report

Botch: A Call to Design

For three days in December 2006, Dubai hosted one of the world’s largest real estate fairs. Dedicated mostly to development proposals along the Arabian Coast and in the Arabic world, the annual event is increasingly attractive to more international projects, ready to display their proposals to a public eager to invest. Open and free to everyone who can present a business card, the Cityscape event is at once high-risk seriousness and frivolous entertainment. Comic relief, music, light shows and robot performances are fair game in attracting the roaming public. Private rooms behind display booths shelter sensitive sales negotiations, but it is impossible to conceal all the deals. Salespersons, sometimes clad in uniforms similar to fl ight attendants, cannot make potential customers wait for a free room. Negotations become part of the spectacle; awkward moments of deal-making, guarded price lists forgotten on display models. Investors are no longer men in dark suits; they are dentists, retirees-to-be, even families who carry the bags of information catalogues as if they are spending a day at the mall. The comparison is not one missed by developers. A trip to any mall in Dubai also affords the chance to invest: Cityscape booths fit nicely in malls opposite outlets for Zara or Chanel.


Disclaimer for IPad Tower, by Omniyat Properties. As apparently expected, design has since been modified for subsequent real estate fairs

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1. Dubai Towers Dubai, having introduced its concept ‘Dubai Towers’ to Istanbul, Doha and Casablanca, Sama Dubai returns the concept to its source. No architect of record at the exhibition


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2. Najmat the Natural Choice. ‘Natural’ because it is a development on a naturally-occurring island in Abu Dhabi

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6. One of the most visited stands at Cityscape: City of Arabia in Dubailand. The giant model served as fantastical sales counter

4. Omniyat Properties served investment opportunities, robot entertainment and beverages (served by a robot)

7. The robot performance held every couple hours at Omniyat Properties. Chairs at other booths served merely as stools for the crowds further back

5. The Palisades, where ‘the legacy of an era lives on.’ Women in Victorian dresses served beverages to visitors of the full-scale bandstand

8. Model for Nujoom Island, Sharjah. Marketed as a new town with a ‘harmonized’ lifestyle – a focus on traditional Islamic family values

Botch: A Call to Design

3. Cityscape booth for Zaha Hadid Architects. Touching is encouraged

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12. Better Homes real estate agency invites world citizens to become educated consumers

10. Emaar’s model for King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.

13. Halcrow’s presence as one of many expert fi rms looking to interact with aspiring developers

11. Beverages and diversion at Cityscape

14. Detailed modeling for Dubailand theme park, Aqua Dunya

Gulf Survey

9. Tyrannosaurus rex which has become the perplexing mascot of City of Arabia, Dubailand

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Gulf Skyline What is left to be invented when it comes to the creation of a landmark? So far the 21st century – in a desperate effort to make one building stand out from the next – has been characterized by a manic production of extravagant shapes. Paradoxically, the result is a surprisingly monotonous urban substance, where any attempt at ‘difference’ is instantly neutralized in a sea of meaningless architectural gestures.

Norman Foster

Norr Group Consultants Int. Ltd

WS Atkins

Architect unknown


Architect unknown

Architectural Services International, Inc.

Pei Partnership Architects

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Norr Group

WS Atkins

Architect unknown

Architect unknown

Farayand AEC

Zaha Hadid

WS Atkins

National Engineering Bureau

OMA/Rem Koolhaas

WS Atkins


Architect unknown



WS Atkins

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Jean Nouvel


WS Atkins

Architect unknown

Architect unknown


Cadiz International

Dar Al-Handasah

OMA/Rem Koolhaas


WS Atkins


Botch: A Call to Design


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Norr Group


Eric R Kuhne & Associates

Architect unknown

Santiago Calatrava

WS Atkins

Borja Huidobro/Atelier 4 Architects

Shankland Cox


WS Atkins

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Essay by Todd Reisz

Market Narrows — A Visit to the Souk

Souk: From Arabic ‫ﻕﻭُﺱ‬, sūq, from Aramaic, šūqā (‘street’, ‘market’); from Akkadian sūqu (‘street’), from sāqu (‘narrow’, ‘squeeze’). Agora: Greek αγείρειν meaning ‘to gather’, ‘to collect,’ ‘large place’

Regional Case Studies 238

Nighttime is the time for shopping in Kuwait’s souk: the temperature is lower and the chance of a cool breeze is higher. Night also ensures a strangely temporal scene, a typical street dissociated from its everyday feel. Light is fluorescent-bright, but it quickly subsides to an impenetrable darkness – sharp white to gold and then to black. What extra light there is for atmospheric effect sheds a soft golden tint on external surfaces – like dirt roads and new paving bricks, glimpses of the pitched ceilings above. Despite the fact that layers of city exist above the shops, at night they disappear as if Kuwait were still a one-story village. Fellow shoppers remain in cool shadows – an urban community but one that provides the ease of privacy. Translating souk to ‘market’ misses an urban nuance, because market implies a distinct space – like agora. Whereas agora implies the ‘gathering, assembling’ of unused space into a defi nable void or center 1, souk’s mercantile roots come from ‘narrow’ and ‘street,’ an attenuated alternative to a Western version of market – easily inhabiting portions of the city not ‘gathered’ but ‘squeezing’ into underused space. Agora is destination; souk is more like city – it streams out and occupies the ground level of a city; it seeps underground functioning like a nervous system. Display is at once artless and captivating. Every surface within a stall is covered with at least two layers of merchandise – even the inner sides of open doors and door jambs are real estate too prime to ignore. No shop can be fully inspected. There is always something your eyes miss. No matter how many shoppers there are, there is still a certain dignity to shopping. Crossing from one covered street to another can signify a world of difference – in terms of products and also atmosphere. A quick turn in an alley will place you in Kuwait’s center of Arabic perfumes, and around the next corner the souk is a dusty road where dates and figs are sold by twenty different vendors – each obeying a presentation custom of mountains of the fruits broken in a way so that you can easily taste the products. More renovated streets of the souk are paved with ceramic tiles, much like the produce section of a supermarket. These spaces are teeming with South Asian men waiting to be hired to push your purchases in their carts. On other roads marked with potholes and broken rocks, these modern inventions

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1. Perhaps why agoraphobia is both the fear of crowds and of large spaces.

Gulf Survey

can hardly be maneuvered, in a way that says modern conveniences are not encouraged. Souk streets determine their preferred shoppers. Cities touched with the modern tendencies of market forces see their souk cultures deform and dwindle, perhaps to return as a nostalgic, selfconscious aftermath. First crumbling into devastated outlets where little is on sale, then tourism development grabs hold of souk’s romantic notions and rebuilds a tourist’s paradise of exotic variation, but selling only the expected: packaged incense to bring home; knickknack souvenirs; beach toys and cheap sandals. Where capitalism has hardly had its way, the souks have maintained an authentic nod to past trade customs and the protocol of gestural bartering. Kuwait’s souk sits comfortably between worlds. In a constant play between public and private, the souk challenges what is open space and closed. Narrow streets open to a larger space. This is a coffee shop as much as an urban square, as it is a closed courtyard. Several streets – filled with vegetables, home goods, clothing and perfumes – converge on this essential space. The café business seems neither to own the courtyard nor be franchised public space – they exist only with each other. In 1966, a travel writer noted that the ‘ragged old souk had mostly vanished’.2 The mud bricks and rusty corrugated steel of earlier days are now all gone. Ever since the 1950s, Kuwait has tried in numerous ways to update its souk. What remains are various manifestations of modernism, rejected and revised. More diversion and discovery. 2. Holden, David. Farewell to Arabia. 1966

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1. The Left Alone. Stores built in the 1950s from concrete and brick to replace the mud brick stalls – they have seemingly transformed themselves back into what they once were – a patina of wear and resistance returns ancientness. The roads in these areas are dirt. These are the areas where a stillness is obvious.

Todd Reisz

Regional Case Studies 240

2. The Modernized. Parts of the souk show the obvious signs of modernization, that is, opened up by the broadening of streets and clear demarcation of sidewalks from roads. American Main Streets. Car traffic is let in and encouraged. Stores get bigger, so do their signage because it can be read from a greater distance. Double parking traffic jams so that traffic doesn’t go too fast. Honking and waving. Another kind of street life.

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They Will Come to the Desert — Al Areen Holding Company Creates an Oasis

During the days of Cityscape Al Areen Holding Company’s general manager Waleed Ishaq Saffy shared insight about the company’s largest Bahraini project, the pseudonymous Al Areen, located a short drive from the urban sprawl of Bahrain’s capital Manama. On a development map of the Gulf, Al Areen stands out as an isolated oasis in the desert, without expectation of any other development to connect it to the most coveted development asset – coastline. What kind of strategy was behind this daring move?

Regional Case Studies

There is something that seems different about the Al Areen project when you compare it to other projects.

Todd Reisz —

We feel that we are creating a destination that takes part in one of the most beautiful desert areas of the Kingdom of Bahrain. In the last twenty years, there have been towns developed outside Manama, but they were never a complete package. At Al Areen people can actually live or visit for quality entertainment. By having proper quality control, appropriate concept development, construction and infrastructure, we feel that this project can afford to be different. It’s a low-rise development where you are free from the buzz and headache of the city. For example, one of the feature ideas is to have an area with controlled traffic movement and a lower speed limit. Despite its lack of waterfront, the Al Areen development is considered one of the most important real estate projects in the Kingdom with total investments exceeding 1.2 billion US dollars. This luxury, mixed-use health, residential and family leisure and tourism development spans over two million square meters close to the Al Areen Wildlife Sanctuary.

Waleed Ishaq Saffy —

What really strikes me about this project is that it claims to embrace the desert, which no other development project does.


Courtesy of Al Areen

TR —

Master plan of the Al Areen development

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This portion of the island was purposely developed in order to utilize a desert environment that doesn’t have beachfront. Before the Formula One racetrack came to Bahrain, there was no development at all on this part of the island. After having seen a lot of attraction come in for Formula One, we thought of developing the desert area adjacent to it. Initiators of the development had the idea of bringing in Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, a Singapore-based luxury chain operator of six spa facilities, to operate the Banyan Tree Desert Spa & Resort, Al Areen. But that alone was not enough. It would be difficult to get people from downtown Manama to drive a half hour just to visit a spa in the middle of the desert. We decided to expand the idea into a destination where people can live or come for a few days – not just a one- or two-hour stay. WIS —

TR —

Is the wildlife component more like a zoo, or a reserve?

It’s a natural Wildlife Park, not a safari, and is open to the public. There are enclosures, but you can see gazelles, ostriches… It’s really interesting. You go by minibus, and then pay a small fee for a tour. WIS —

TR —

Will you call it a city?

TR —

Do you imagine that people who live here will also work in Manama?

It is possible, since the development is only a 25-minute drive from the city centre. We’ll have around 800 villas of different sizes here. We will also have approximately 2,500 flats distributed throughout the development. WIS —

TR —

Gulf Survey

I don’t want to call it a city. It’s a small town, a community, with its own facilities. WIS —

What is the economic range – mixed, very high or middle income?

Al Areen is defi nitely not for the lower- but for the upper-mid and higher. House sizes range from mid-size to villas and palaces. In the entire region, homes in a mid-price range have been upgraded. The price of construction has gone up tremendously, not just for Al Areen but globally. So middle-class families have to deal with a new price range. We have what we call ‘Downtown Al Areen,’ which includes a shopping bouvelard with high-end boutiques, cafes and a residential area with townhouses and condominiums. For residents and others from out of town we are also building a medical park very soon with a Rehabilitation Centre and luxury accommodation units for long-term stay.



In your marketing materials, you stress Banyan Tree Al Areen as a spa and resort in the desert. Is there a desire to keep it sustainable, to embrace desert landscape? TR —

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WIS — Since it can get quite hot in the summer, you have to make it a bit different. Water features will help with that. Banyan Tree Desert Spa & Resort, Al Areen presents a total of 78-luxuriously appointed villas; 56 one-bedroom Desert Pool Villas and 22 two-bedroom Royal Pool Villas and featuring private open-air swimming and jet pools, over-sized infi nity bath tubs and sprawling master bedrooms. Capturing the essence of Arabia, each villa is designed to incorporate an intimate fusion of traditional Middle Eastern and contemporary Asian architecture. The interiors combine arabesque style furnishings with elegant Far Eastern fabrics, wrapping guests in sheer luxury and total tranquillity. The Banyan Tree Spa features eight Deluxe and four Royal Spa Pavilions, the world’s fi rst Garden Hammam, a Hydrothermal Garden and extensive fitness facilities.

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Ras Al Khaimah’s New Realism — Izzat Dajani Shares a Vision for Total Lifestyle Package

Ras Al Khaimah, one of the seven emirates of the UAE, is out to define itself from its neighbors. Measuring the feats and attempts of other emirates, RAK wants to define a path unique to Ras Al Khaimah, connected to its particular geography and history but also offering the modern day lifestyle expected of its resident-to-be. Izzat Dajani, chief executive from RAK’s government, made time during his hectic days at Cityscape to outline what is in store in the next five years.

Regional Case Studies

What is Ras Al Khaimah trying to do and what is it trying to be in terms of its relationship with other emirates and other cities developing along the Gulf coast? It’s out to be different, especially from Dubai. But what is it that makes this emirate different?

Todd Reisz —

Let’s start with the GDP so you can understand where we are. You can fi nd that 59 percent of the UAE’s contribution to GDP is from Abu Dhabi, 29 percent is from Dubai, just under 7 percent from Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah has 2.9 percent. That is one of the elements that are defining us, depending on our economy size and population. Ras Al Khaimah’s GDP grew by a phenomenal 18% in 2005 to a total of $2.5 billion. Our population is just over 200,000 people. We’ll double both in the next five to ten years. In terms of size, we are the fourth largest emirate after Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah. That said, Ras Al Khaimah is a really different place with a new vision in place. It’s about fi nding a destiny. It is like an unpolished jewel – ironically, there’s a lot of rock here! Over the past three or four years there has been a reorientation of Ras Al Khaimah’s vision based upon the realization of Ras Al Khaimah’s potential. This new confidence is a sign of HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi’s coming to office as Crown Prince & Deputy Ruler. Ever since the new leadership started looking at new ways of doing things, we have been moving with a new realism. That’s very important.

Izzat Dajani —

TR —

What is ‘new realism’?

It’s not enough to dream. Everyone dreams. Everyone here at Cityscape is dreaming of realizing his or her own project. The trick is, those with a realistic vision that can be materialized will succeed. The others will just become frustrated. In Ras Al Khaimah today, we have a vision that can be materialized. We go on a realistic time process. We look at things over five years, not over fi fty years. And we keep refi ning the model. What’s happening basically is that we realized that we have great potential in the real estate and hospitality markets. One of those reasons is that the land topography is very attractive. The mixture between different land-

ID —


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scapes – between coastline and the mountains, between the plateaus and the valleys – is really interesting. We also look at things from more than a real estate point of view. Part of the success factor is in how we differentiate our products. TR —

And one of those things is geography?

Yes, and what we also realize is that, unless we come with a total lifestyle package, we’re just another development.

ID —

TR —

What’s a ‘lifestyle package’ ?

You see, we have thought through all the components of life. The house that you buy or you rent is connected to the restaurant you visit; it’s connected to the theme park that you take your kids to, to the hospital that you go to when you feel sick, as well as the school that your kids go to. It’s a whole lifestyle experience. It’s no good building the most exquisite resort if it’s not part of a full lifestyle package. We have a holistic approach whereby every project that we do is going to be integrated with the overall components of a full lifestyle development.

ID —

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The Saraya project, for example, is a fully integrated project, meaning, it has a happy and clever mix between components of lifestyle. It has the real estate which people live in. It has the hotels which are a creative linking to the real estate. Just staying in a gated community can sometimes be dull and boring, or you don’t want too much activity inside your living quarters, so you want something close by such as hotels. Then, you add a boulevard to that so that within a five-minute drive you move from a fully residential, gated community to a boulevard that’s full of shopping and life. It has coffee shops like Starbucks and all the malls. We are also thinking of linking that boulevard to the mountains with a cable car and probably a nine-hole golf course at the altitude of 600 meters. So that’s a whole experience. By linking the hotels to the boulevard to the shopping area to the recreation for children, to the fully secluded atmosphere for grown-ups to enjoy the time with their family with peace of mind, linking it to an experience in the mountains and, at the same time, creating the environment close-by for fi rst-class education and fi rst-class health care, it becomes a reality.


Courtesy of Investment and Development Office, RAK

Gulf Survey

Saraya Islands will occupy the pristine 7 kilometre Julfar Island

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TR — I talked to people from a project where they are also selling a lifestyle package. But it’s a traditionally Muslim lifestyle, making sure that people who come to live there are not just buying a type of house or place, but also a type of community. They are sharing it with a similar type of people. Is that anything that Ras Al Khaimah is looking at?

You have to think these days outside the box. You can’t confi ne yourself. What I mean by lifestyle development is that you take the components around you, and you make sure that whoever is buying here gets the full benefit of the surroundings.

Regional Case Studies

Courtesy of Investment & Development Office

ID —

Saraya Islands

How do you convince home-buyers that your hospitals are of quality and your schools are of quality?

TR —

The proof is in the pudding. Our projects speak for themselves. We don’t promise the future; we promise the present. That gives a sense of confidence. Ras Al Khaimah has done so much in terms of investments in education. We are really serious about education. We have the fi rst fully integrated American campus: George Mason University. My office, Investment & Development Office, has been a strong instrument in bringing a full campus of a top key American institution to Ras Al Khaimah, so students can go to a real American campus that’s branded. We have also signed up with Tufts University for its renowned nutrition program. Tufts’ School of Nutrition is the premiere nutrition institution in the United States and globally. We are just trying to catch the reality of the day. ID —

TR —

So, you have two universities…

Yes, with more coming. We will also have a premiere boarding school which will probably be one of the well-branded, well-structured boarding schools.

ID —

TR —

Is it a new school or a branch of an existing school?

It’s a new school. Educators from premiere schools globally – from Australia, Britain, the USA, or Canada – are on the advisory board sitting with us to make the structure for that school.

ID —

TR —

How would you define Ras Al Khaimah’s five-year vision?

Ras Al Khaimah is about offering people a fully integrated lifestyle where they can come and feel the difference. Remember, this part of the world offers zero taxation: no income tax, no corporate tax, no duty, no sales tax, no capital gains tax. For the European, the American, the Arab and the Asian, this is nice. It’s an ideal place to buy a second home: people can come here, park money in a house or a home or a unit. The more the value goes up, the more money you make.

ID —


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We are just trying to catch the reality of the day. Although the weather here can actually be a bit harsh in the summer, you have at least sun all year round. You can enjoy your life outside all year round – especially people who come from a less hot environment. But importantly, no investor would park money in a place where you don’t trust health care. If people trust the education and the health care, they have to come. TR —

And the health care system of Ras Al Khaimah is now in place?

We are now talking about delivery. This is going to be a premiere place for a health care delivery system. Because of the components that we are bringing in, people will trust health care and education in Ras Al Khaimah. We have signed up with one of the premiere hospitals in the United States. They will be opening a fully integrated health care system in Ras Al Khaimah. I can’t announce the name, but they are one of the premiere hospitals based in Texas. They are now working with us to set up specialty clinics, medical centers and hospitals. Health care with our partner will kick in a bit earlier, early 2008.

ID —

Gulf Survey

What is particularly striking is that Ras Al Khaimah is selling something that it’s had – an ancient landscape – and things that it needs simply by bringing them in from afar. TR —

We look at ourselves as a small unit in a much bigger one. We are like a fish in a big pond. That pond is too big. Within a two-hour flying radius from the UAE you can get superb health care, send your kids to a good university, or put them in a boarding school…

ID —

TR — ID —

What about sustainability, environment?

If you do the thing right, it sustains itself. TR —

They always ask me, ‘What makes countries succeed? What makes Ras Al Khaimah succeed?’ I say, ‘Leadership, leadership, leadership and luck!’ [laughs] We’ve put the first three right, and I hope there could be the fourth.

Courtesy of Investment & Development Office


But that’s also something to be marketed.

ID —

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Al Hamra Academy boarding school

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September 25, 2006 We have been invited to take part in an obscure urban planning project. Main feature: a mysterious Russian professor who claims he can make rain in the desert. He presents news fl ashes of a recent – and very unusual – flooding in the UAE as proof. All of this is made possible through the use of ‘Magnetic Technologies’, the remnants of an aborted science program for climate control from Soviet times, which the professor has now patented. His portfolio includes a credential letter signed by Leonid Brezhnev. Weird antenna-like equipment is loaded onto pick-up trucks (much like the infamous SS20 nuclear missiles) and driven into the desert. The antennas shoot ions into the atmosphere provoking clouds to burst and cause rain. The professor’s presentation continues to show pyramids of snow, sphinxes of ice, and photographs of himself and various high-ranking government officials in the burning desert sun, testing the hardness of freshly fallen hail. A question about the possible undesirable side effects is rebutted with the confident statement that the only real problem of the technology is keeping count of the many positive things that occur in its wake. Amongst the many blessings of the artifi cial rain are: increased human fertility rates, cured cases of skin cancer, and the mass return of animal species until recently considered extinct. – RdG

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The World Press Conference Hamza Mustafa is Nakheel’s General Manager for The World development project. Luis Ajamil is an engineer for the firm Bermello Ajamil & Partners, Inc. based in Miami, USA. On a day during Dubai’s Cityscape exhibition, a group of international press took a short yet exciting journey to Denmark with the two expert navigators.


Hamza Mustafa — Good afternoon. It’s nice weather, everybody. We are now at The World, 7 kilometers in length, 9 kilometers in width. It will add 232 kilometers of new beach. Now that’s very important. Dubai, as you see it, is a coastal city. All development happens on the beach, and that’s in line with our tourism industry. The tourists come to Dubai for two reasons – the sun and the beach. The sun’s not going anywhere, but our beach was fully developed by 1999. The government of Dubai placed the order to add new beach lines to Dubai. So, Nakheel’s main objective is to add new beach to Dubai. The Palm added 130 kilometers. The World has added 232 kilometers. Together, all of Nakheel’s projects will add 1,500 kilometers of beach to the original 67 kilometers. Dubai has positioned The World as its most exclusive development ever.


Approaching Denmark’s landing, twelve kilometers from Dubai’s shore. Van Oord dredging ship in background.

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Press —

Gulf Survey

There will only be 300 islands; there will only ever be 300 buyers. Only 300 people will help us implement Dubai’s greatest vision. You can see for yourself why we are so careful when we choose our buyers, why it’s such a process to decide who gets to play a part in owning a piece of these beautiful islands. Up to now we have sold about 45 percent of the project. By next year, we will have stopped sales completely. We will then let those who have already bought construct. Once that construction is fi nished, by 2010 or 2011, we will sell another 50 islands. When it comes to real estate terms, you can think of this project as Dubai’s Limited Edition. Want to walk with me? This island, Denmark, gives you an idea of the size of one island. The average price of an island is 30 million dollars. But you can see the size of it. There is a lot that can be built here, from hotels to residential villas to multi-use developments. This is far north and basically over the Gulf. We are now standing 12 kilometers into the sea. That’s Dubai behind us. Over there is Europe. Asia’s over there. North America is on our left. Let me introduce Luis Ajamil. Luis is the main engineer and the planner behind the project. Luis and I spend a lot of time planning and deciding how The World community’s going to work. Luis has his own development company. I asked him to join us today because it’s an opportunity for you to see the people who are behind this project. Could you comment on luxury? Is this the end-game of luxury?

Yes, absolutely. There is nothing after The World. Not everybody wants to buy a lot of land, but everybody dreams of buying an island. That’s what you’re doing here. See that island over there? That’s a 200,000 square foot island with a 20,000 square foot villa on it. I built that place as HM —

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a show villa. After one of the guests came and saw it, they were so impressed that they bought the place. That gives you an idea of a lowdensity single family estate. We’re not going to have a lot of those – about 15 of the 300 islands will be that type. That is luxury. You’re talking about a 40 million dollar home. But the rest of the products, even as they get denser, will be incredibly luxurious. What’s exciting about this is, once you live out here, you’ve got all of these islands, and each of them has something to offer. One night you can get on a boat to go to a restaurant, the next time you go to see a movie. Everything you do regularly, you can do it here in an exclusive way, by boat, as a community. You begin to think about just spending time here and visiting other islands. The potential is just incredible. It’s so big that you are never going to get tired of it. Working collectively and having each developer come up with his own ideas will make this a truly unique place. Press —

What are the names and nationalities of some of the developers?

Our developers come from England, from Ireland, from Kuwait. We have a Russian developer, an American developer. The list goes on. We haven’t announced all of our developers. We hand over the islands in 2007 and the developers start construction after then, and it takes them four years to fi nish construction. They don’t decide to launch the projects until they actually break ground. Nobody wants to wait for eight years until a project is ready. So we talk about The World as two things of construction at the same time. We have to build the land, and then they have to come and build on top.

HM —


If the developers do what they wish with the islands once they buy it, does that mean they are going to be freehold?

Press —

Absolutely. Everything you see here is freehold. We sell it freehold, and the developers build and sell it freehold. This will always remain as a freehold title. Luis Ajamil — You’re buying a plot that includes the water up until the water of the adjacent island, and each island has been carefully set. So when a developer plans their community, if they want to have, say, a cove here and surround it with beautiful houses, they can do that. Or if they want to build a marina, or fill part of a bay in, and do something else in the middle, they can do that. Each developer will have the flexibility within certain guidelines, so that they don’t affect the surrounding islands and navigation. In a way, you can create your own island – Hamza calls this terraforming. You couldn’t ask for a better situation. It’s very easy to shape, yet it’s very strong. HM —

What are some of the challenges you have faced in developing this? What are some of the things, in terms of construction, that you have had to change around a bit to adapt?

Press —

The challenge is just the massive scale and speed at which this is going. It has required having a good construction company to keep the production rates. The next project that Nakheel will announce, one of the Palms, is the largest reclamation project of land in terms of the volume of earth that has been moved. And it will be done in just a few years. That’s really the major challenge.

LA —


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Now the challenges will switch to the infrastructure side. In certain ways, this is a lot easier than building on land. If you were to build a project of this size in the middle of the desert, you would be worrying about roadways and conflicts with surrounding land uses. Transportation is your biggest problem because everybody relies on a single-person car. Most of the people here will be arriving here by ferries because of convenience. In a way, we’re building a community from a resource conservation perspective. We don’t need to build roads. We don’t need to put down asphalt. We don’t need to worry about pollution. As the population goes up, you just increase the ferry service. All we would have to do is maintain the navigation aids. From this point of view, it’s really going to be easy. Press —

And in case of emergency?

The World will be divided into four zones and each zone will be served by one hub. Each hub has an emergency service: you have your fire station, your police station, your healthcare provider, to which you will have instantaneous access. Each one is so designed that, if you were crawling at a slow speed, you’ll get there in ten minutes maximum. On average, it’s about seven minutes to get there. Most of the islands are fi ve minutes away. Again, from that point of view, it’s going to be easier than trying to get an ambulance to your place through traffic.

LA —

Gulf Survey

Press —

How many people will be here at any given time?

The average population is 150,000, and it will peak at about one quarter of a million on holidays when the hotels are all going. That’s with permanent residents, transient visitors and people that work in The World. To give you an idea of the scale, Venice fits in less than a quarter of the size of The World. So, it’s a very large-scale project. HM — I think most of you want to go back to Cityscape, so let’s head back to the boats. LA —

Press —

There’s one company doing all of the dredging: Van Oord, a Dutch company. The largest dredging company in the world. The ship on the opposite side of this island is a dredger. They look like regular ships, except that their cargo space is filled with sand. They go out there [gesturing toward the Gulf] and pick the sand up. Press —


Did you work with one particular dredging company?

LA —

Whose idea was this?

Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum. He came up with all of these concepts. It was all his idea. HM —

Everything you do regularly, you can do it here in an exclusive way. 275

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Terraforming 276

Hamza Mustafa, project director for The World, poses for French telejournalists on Denmark, the rest of Scandinavia lies in the background.

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Gulf Survey AMO 277

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A view from Denmark over Europe and Africa toward the Dubai skyline. The rising Burj Al Dubai (here at 86 stories) and other Sheikh Zayed Road towers form a two-dimensional skyline.


Korean reporters taking snapshots. A picture from Dubai without iconic backdrop – will this be the most sought after experience in Dubai? Dubai without Dubai?

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February 14, 2007 A shocking account of events around a recent urban development: apparently the sale of plots had preceded the planning of utilities and amenities. By the time the need was identified, the sale of land had already been completed. The result: a community of 200,000 people without schools, fi re stations, electricity or even a single mosque. The money involved in buying back enough land to accommodate these amenities allegedly consumed the entire profit of the development. Who said the free market was a selfregulating intelligent system? – RdG

Gulf Survey AMO 279

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Al Manakh 1 - excerpts (2/3) Gulf Survey  

Upon its release, Al Manakh became the authoritative resource for understanding the scope of urban development along the Gulf coast. Releas...

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