Instant City (Archigram) & Dubai

Instant City (Archigram) & Dubai


Rapid development of Dubai in the era of post oil revenue dependent happened in only a short period of roughly 10 years (1995-2005). This form of development can be seen as an envision of future cities as imagined by architects in the 60s, noticeably a British architecture group known as Archigram. This form of vast development within short periods of time can be described as the idea of ‘Instant City’ as proposed by the group mentioned as it is heavily influenced by technology and mobility.


The idea of ‘Instant City’ as envisioned by Archigram, where large mobile metropolis are injected onto a deserted land temporarily as a method to activate the site.


Image Reference: Archigram. ‘Instant City’. 1960. Accessed on 18th December 2015.


Instant City of Dubai

The ideas of instant city is to create over stimulation of culture and technology towards an underdeveloped area, creating a temporary city in hopes that the underdeveloped land becomes influenced by it and hence able to develop itself through the sharing of technological ideas. These ideas are spread by mobile machines that carry suitable technologies, they move around seeking for underdeveloped land and transform it into something developed. These mobile machines are mostly hot air balloons as it is widely used back in the days.

Mention the word Dubai, one would only recognize the word at the time period of early 2000s. Dubai has emerged in a sudden manner, conquering the world through its massive development which we can see today. Similar as to the idea of ‘Instant City’, Dubai underwent heavy outside influence of technology and culture that form what it is today. 97% of Dubai’s population was born in a foreign country which surpasses the amount of foreign population of 37% in New York City. These are mainly made up of foreign workers who migrated to Dubai during its real estate boom period and foreign expats and investors who moved there due to its low taxation and loose business laws. Not to mention that the existing technologies that we see in modern Dubai were also imported from other countries. Hence, we can say that Dubai’s import of both social and technology is similar to the idea of a hot air balloon that carries all these futuristic ideas as based on ‘Instant City’. Differences is that in Dubai’s case, Emirates airline becomes a substitute of the hot air balloon, creating much more connections to different parts of the world.


The vast developments seen within a year is similar to the ideas of 'Instant City'.
The vast developments seen within a year is similar to the ideas of ‘Instant City’.


Image Reference: Unknown Author. ‘An aerial photo comparison of the Burj construction site in 2005 January and 2006  February’. Unknown Date.  Accessed on 18th December 2015.


  1. Brook, Daniel. A History of Future Cities. W.W Norton, 2013.


5 Comments on “Instant City (Archigram) & Dubai

  1. The comparison between ideas of the past and present situation poses quite a strong argument on the feasibility and shortcomings of certain projects like the Instant City. I very much agree on the fact that the idea of activating the city through technologies from the Instant City is inherited in today’s Dubai in different forms and modes. However, perhaps one major vision of the Instant City, as conceived from the word “instant”, is the employment of provisional structures and frameworks in organizing and influencing city fabrics, and that makes up for the beauty of the project. That sort of flexibility and architectural indeterminacy are somehow lost in translating to nowadays Dubai. To further extract the essence of the Instant City, is there any more differences between what was envisioned in the project and the present context? Can technology be the core in transforming a city, rather than economic and social aspects? That might help in build up the argument against/for the idea of Instant City.

    • From my point of view, the whole idea of ‘Instant City’ is more like a trial of activation on an existing ‘inactive’ site. The implementation of technology and culture would be more of an attempt to influence the existing condition. Hence there is a possibility of failure in the process of doing so. This is also to me a starting point of a very radical move in forcing the growth of a city. The idea of ‘Instant City’ is a metaphorical representation of Dubai’s development in such a short time period, in which they have very much succeeded in doing so.

      Applying the layers of ideas from ‘Instant City’ onto Dubai would be a step further from the ideas as proposed by Archigram. We first have to understand that Dubai started off as a state that is already rich due to oil revenue since the discover of oil in 1966 and all these rapid development only happened within a short time frame of 10 years from 1995 onward. The idea of floating hot air balloon is being represented by all these revenues from oil.

      To answer the questions posted, yes technology can be a core in transforming the city but for Dubai, technology is imported from overseas which is again linked back to both economic and social aspects. To me, these 3 aspects stands together on the same level in transforming a city.

  2. To be honest I have never been to Dubai and I don’t know much about it at all, but hearing from you that the foreign population dominates 97% of the city seems to me as if Dubai was a cruise ship with a collage of people from all around the world in it, making it impossible for a passersby to tell where the ship had actually departed from. How does a city or its governmental structure with such vast foreign population function? Could the reason for Dubai’s stable governmental rule and continuing existence be the side effect of the Instant City, where all foreign investors are somehow united with one purpose and that is to develop the desert lands into an 21st century urban oasis? On a side note, are there any other examples of Instant City being practiced elsewhere in the world?

    happy holidays 🙂

    • The whole reason why Dubai is made up of 97% foreigners is because of business opportunities and political stability in the region. Not to also mention the government’s flexible law systems when it comes to foreign investors. There are also of course many unwritten rules that the government would like to hide from the public which made me believe that there might be different set of rules for different people in the state. This is covered by Ravin’s and Eugene’s posts (Narratives) which explains the social differences in Dubai.

      It is interesting that you link Dubai’s current achievements to the idea’s (Instant City) side effect. I would say that yes, it is a positive side effect and also a continuation of the idea. However, I would not say that the stability of the government is related to the unity of the foreign investors but is related instead to the different governmental policy in each of the nation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

      To answer your final question, Dubai would be the best representation as it happened recently and in a very short time period of roughly 10 years. Other possible cities are Shanghai (after China’s Open Door Policy in 1979), Singapore (between 1980 to 2000) and Seoul (1980-2000).

  3. The drastic change taking place in the city between 2005 and 2006 as is shown in the photos well supports the idea of Dubai as an instant city. Different from Dubai, China was an extremely underdeveloped country when it opened up to the global economy. The opening up of Shanghai in this case was to welcome the foreign capital instead of the advanced technology.The city had long been a factory of the world rather than an ideal place for investment. For this I wouldn’t consider Shanghai as an “instant city” whose rapid growth is largely driven by technology.Back to Dubai, to associate the change with the city planning,since the development of a blank area involves various sources of capital and technology, I believe there must be many decisions to be made before the conduction of the work.It would be intriguing to know the different parties involved in the decision making stage. Also, it’s interesting to know if there was prototype for reference in the planning of the area.

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