Home to the tallest building in the world, a feat of engineering never before seen in the form of an artificial island, and one of the centers of modern-day architecture, Dubai has captured the minds and hearts of many young architects dreaming of leaving a mark on the world. In the past 50 years it has gone from a small town next to a creek to a hub of commerce and luxury in the United Arab Emirates. Largely thanks to the discovery of oil in the surrounding landscape, but also thanks to the foresight of its inhabitants, and the respect they all shared for Dubai’s traditions.
When you look at some of the earlier photos of Dubai’s landscape, you can see nothing but low, mortar or gypsum, buildings covering both sides of the river. Even if you look at some of the more recent photos, i.e. 1950’s, not much had changed up until then. It was only a couple of decades ago that the landscape started rapidly changing, from that of a small coastal trading post to the huge metropolis that Dubai has become. However, even though it has changed a lot, Dubai and its inhabitant have preserved the love of their culture, and have nurtured and developed it along with the amazing feats of modern architecture that adorn its landscape today.
If we were to find an example of modern-day architecture that has completely incorporated traditional Arabic elements into its design, we would eventually stumble upon Madinat Jumeirah, the largest resort in the emirate. Now, it is certainly far less impressive than Burj Khalifa, which we will get to in just a few moments, but it is very important to us if we’re looking at modern-day and traditional architecture working together. Madinat Jumeirah is a 5 star resort that has all the conveniences that a visitor might desire, but it also has a wind tower and sharp rectangular design that is so recognizable in Arabic architecture. Which means that it allows its visitors to experience both sides of the coin, without being forced to make a compromise between authenticity and comfort.
Now, let’s talk about the building that is know all over the world, and that can be seen from miles and miles away – Burj Khalifa. Design by Adrian Smith, the 800m colossus has become the most well-known modern-day structure in the world. It is a true marvel of engineering and architecture, that combines some of the most advanced building techniques with the best materials that could be found, yet they are not the only things that make it special. The design also utilizes some very authentic and recognizable architectural elements. Namely, the shape of the structure itself is very reminiscent of the stepped ascending spirals present in traditional Arabic architecture. And the base itself, in the shape of a flower, was based on the white lily that is cultivated in the surrounding desert. The Burj Khalifa perfectly represents both worlds, and is definitely a perfect representation of the idea of Dubai being the “lovely child of traditional and modern architecture”.
Joining the ranks of Dubai’s wonders in the following years will be Calatrava’s tower in Dubai Creek. Set to be completed by 2020, just in time for Dubai Expo, the unnamed tower is going to be one more structure that shows the intent of both the architect and the developers to preserve and nurture traditional architecture in the future. Calatrava has said that his intent with the design is for it to represent both the minaret of a mosque and the shape of a lily, staples of traditional architecture. Not only is it a truly marvelous design, but it will also take the spot of the largest building in the world cementing Dubai’s dominance as the city with the tallest skyline in the world. And all that while remaining true to their traditional architecture.