Master Plan of Dubai 1960: The Phantom Menace

Master Plan of Dubai 1960: The Phantom Menace

Below is the first master plan of Dubai by John R. Harris in 1960, which is mentioned very seldom because of its failure in anticipating the extremely rapid growth of the city.

1960 Dubai Master Plan © 1960 by John Harris
John R. Harris © 1960 by John Harris

After several creek developments, Rashid Al Maktoun, the ruler of Dubai, noticed the need for a thorough town plan under the rapid urban growth. The urban planning for Dubai in previous years was a threat to the future development of Dubai and there is an emergency necessity for a new proposal. In 1960, Rashid thus assigned a British architect John R. Harris to design a master plan for the city. By 1960, Dubai’s population has reached an estimated 40,000 and the city was entering what is referred to as its second development phase, the purpose of the plan is to incorporate the existing old town with modern infrastructures and projects equipping future development.

(Right) Rashid Al Maktoun, the ruler of Dubai, (Left) John R. Harris, British architect © 1960 by Vikramāditya Prakāsh

At that time, Dubai was a town with little infrastructure and facilities such as roads, utility networks and water system were inadequate and improper. These would hinder Dubai’s development as a trade-oriented economy.

1960 Dubai Creek © 1960 by meDubai

In light of it, the master plan had included a road network with the aim of outlining the transportation system. The transportation system would immensely improve the accessibility and provide convenience businessmen to carry out trading activities. In addition, land uses like industrial, residential, commercial and public uses were indicated in the master plan to provide a zoning model and guide future development.

1960 Dubai Aerial View © 1960 by Bashny

In order to facilitate the master plan, Rashid established the Dubai Land Department in 1960 and introduced the Land Law in the same year, which provided that land without valid proof of ownership would go to the ruler. Taking advantage of the law, large-scale infrastructures would be able to launched.

Government of Dubai, Land Department Building in Deira
Government of Dubai, Land Department Building in Deira © 1960 by Courtney Trenwith

Being the first master plan of Dubai, it bears significant historical meaning and laid an important foundation for the development. The plan also reflects their ambition to become a trading hub in the Gulf. Yet, it was emphasized that the plan was highly flexible to adapt to new conditions. The modest design of the 1960 master plan was quickly enhanced upon discovery of oil in 1966. The flexibility had provided a foreshadowing of the modification plan in 1971.


Works Cited

Elsheshtawy, Yasser. Debai: Behind an Urban Spectable. Oxford: Routledge, 2010.

Chapman, Len. “John Harris Master Planner.” Dubai as it Used to Be. 2015. (accessed 12 15, 2015).

Ramos, Stephen J. The Blueprint: A History of Dubai’s Spatial Development Through Oil Discovery. Working Paper, Cambridge: Harvard University, 2009.

Kanna, Ahmed. Dubai, the City as Corporation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Areeb, Sheikha. “Bur Dubai Creek side in 1960s.” MeDubai. 2013.!prettyPhoto-283/0/

Trenwith, Courtney . “Dubai Land Dept to double transfer fees.” Arabian 2013.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.