Instant City: Traces to Present Dubai

Instant City: Traces to Present Dubai
Dubai in 1950s

Dubai’s Past (Late 19th century and beyond)

Located along the Persian Gulf, Dubai has been an important active port in the Saudi Arabia region since the 1900. It is a pre-developed city focusing on the trading of sea products in particularly pearls at that time. The port became much more active in 1892 when the local government declared the city to be exempted from tax, resulting in a huge influx of foreign traders into the region which also marks the period of migration of foreign workers from nearby countries like India and Pakistan.

Strategic location of the port had resulted in the British showing interest towards the city as it is between India (British’s colony) and England. However, this interest was recalled after the World War started. Dubai at that time covers only a small area of roughly 3.2km^2 and is made up of small groups of nomads that were involved actively in the field of trading. Mention the word ‘Dubai’, many people would think that this city emerged out of nowhere due to its rapid transformation throughout the pass 15 years from the year 1998. However, if one were to trace out the origins of this city, it can be seen that various efforts has been performed to develop this city.

Early initiatives were done by leaders at that time who provided provision of interest to Persian merchants in order to relocate to Dubai as an effort of developing the city. However, things started falling apart in 1930s when the pearl industry started depressing with recession.  In 1959, the city’s hub was upgraded with the help of Sheikh Rahid (Emir of Kuwait at that time) which allowed bigger ships to dock. Since then, Dubai emerged to be one of the biggest trading hub in the region.

The rapid development that we have all seen in recent years was all due to oil discovery in the year 1966. Trading of oil with foreign countries became the point of focus, this in turn generated a huge amount of income for the city to develop its land. Infrastructures for both foreign oil companies and the city were developed rapidly as a result, creating huge amount of job opportunities and labor needs, Dubai was at its prime development period (1971-1988).


Dubai in 1950s
Dubai in 1950s. Only certain parts of the city were constructed and developed overtime. The city was basically surrounded by desert with extrusions of buildings that resembles a pop up city.

Reference: Unknown author, Unknown Title, Accessed on 1st December 2015,


New Dubai

Starting from 1995, Dubai has shifted its focus and dependent towards oil revenue upon realizing that the future of oil pricing would behave in a volatile manner, world oil price was falling heavily. Revenue generated through oil was instead invested into real estate and development of the city for tourism. In this time period, mega projects and buildings were built such as the Burj Khalifa (2004) and Burj Al-Arab (1994) in order to create an international image towards the city. Throughout the process, the city underwent rapid development from an underdeveloped land to be one of the most developed city in the world. To be seen from another perspective, the new Dubai resembles the idea of ‘Instant City’ as formulated by Archigram back in the 60s.

Changes of Dubai cityscape
Changes of Dubai in figure ground condition. Upper left: 2000, Upper right: 2007, Down: 2015. It can be seen that the city grows from the harbor port which has always been the center of the city since the late 19th century.

Reference: Tai Nicholas Han Vern, The University of Hong Kong, 2015




Dubai Before
Shopper flooding the old market in Deira

Reference: Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, ‘Shopper floods the walkways of open market in Deira’, Unknown Date,, Accessed 7th December 2015

Dubai Now
The market of Deira at present time.

Reference: Unknown Author, Unknown Title, Unknown Date,, Accessed 7th December 2015.


Current Dubai
Dubai in 2015

Reference: Unknown Author, ‘Modern Dubai Tour’, 2014,, Accessed 10th December 2015.

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