Dubai (2000s) / DSO / Contemporary ‘Industrial City’
The ambition of Dubai Silicon Oasis is to become a ‘city in the city’ with an estimated population of 162400 people¹. The unmanned desert context enables its ambition. Facilities from office, industry, logistics, commerce to hospital, school, recreation and residential blocks are all included inside the Oasis which covers 7.2 million m2.
To erect a new city in the desert, DSOA invites America-based Industrial Design & Construction Architects (IDCA) to do the master plan in 2005. In other free zones like DIFC or Business Bay, boulevard or waterbody is the major spatial organizer. Here, IDCA chooses to celebrate the industry and technology by placing those facilities in the center urban core. Institutions are in close proximity with industrial and commercial buildings. Residential blocks embrace the commercial and institutional facilities on the west and south side².
The planning strategy is global, with clear accent of modern planning ideas like radial city and zoning segregation. It may be the major reason why DSOA recruited an American firm to carry out the masterplan. With their global vision, the Silicon Oasis can be designed into a community displaying modernity and containment. Similarity of environment is a crucial factor in attracting foreign capital to come and stay there.
The master plan reminds me of the ‘Industrial City’ proposed by Tony Garnier in 1917. They do share some similarities in the designing logic. For example, the celebration of industry and technology, the sophisticated transportation system nearby site and institutional facilities as the intermediate zoning between industrial and residential sectors. Unlike ‘Industrial City’, Silicon Oasis provides residential quarters with different densities and heights instead of generic small ones. Each residential neighborhood is centered on a neighborhood park, pool, or social center³. Although two schemes all adopt segregated zoning, the relationship is viewed diversely. Tony Garnier argued for a more radical isolation, to enable future expansion of each zone4. On the contrary, Silicon Oasis tries to pursue the sense of ‘community’. And by proximal juxtaposition of different zones, it boosts activeness inside the community, or ‘city’. A railroad line runs across the industry and residential in ‘Industrial City’, while a network of bike and pedestrian trails link the working and living in Silicon Oasis.
The master plan of Silicon Oasis is convincing in highlighting its state-of-the-art infrastructure and high-end ecosystem. Meanwhile, it shows how technology can be used as a tool to build a dynamic international community. They make Silicon Oasis attractive to foreign capital, and foreign intellectuals. But, it’s also a fact that the generic globalized master plan is regardless of the local accent.
It is true that the site was a pure desert when the project was planned, without any existing city fabric. But, there is still the choice either to build up a brand new community with international language, or to treat the land as an extension of existing city fabric, and reinterpret it through a global lens. That mournful circumstance is a result of Dubai government’s planning strategy. When it inserts different free zones inside the city and outsources them to different foreign architects, those free zones are highly likely to become independent pocket spaces standing out in the city fabric. As criticized by Ogaily,
‘In Middle Eastern cities, the bulk of vernacular architecture is being restrained due to the belief that its cultural, symbolic, and economic patterns are inferior to new living patterns and concepts of space allocation – which introduce their own symbolism of technology – and new urban management policies divorced from human scale and traditional organic city fabrics5.’
- Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, ‘Infrastructure’, Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority Official Website, Retrieved from: https://www.dsoa.ae/en/ecosystem/infrastructure/
- IDC Architects, Portfolio, IDC Architects Official Website, Retrieved from: http://www.idcarchitects.com/portfolio/default.asp
- Kenneth Frampton, ‘Tony Garnier and the Industrial City 1899-1918,’ Modern Architecture: A Critical History (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985) pp. 100-104.
- Akram Ogaily, ‘Urban Planning in Dubai: Cultural and Human Scale Context,’ The Middle East: A Selection of Written Works on Iconic Towers and Global Image-making, 2015
Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority. ‘Infrastructure’. Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority Official Website. Retrieved from: https://www.dsoa.ae/en/ecosystem/infrastructure/
Frampton, Kenneth. ‘Tony Garnier and the Industrial City 1899-1918.’ Modern Architecture: A Critical History. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985. pp. 100-104.
IDC Architects. Portfolio. IDC Architects Official Website. Retrieved from: http://www.idcarchitects.com/portfolio/default.asp
Ogaily, Akram. ‘Urban Planning in Dubai: Cultural and Human Scale Context.’ The Middle East: A Selection of Written Works on Iconic Towers and Global Image-making. 2015