Dubai (2000s) / DSO / DSO Headquarters Complex: spectacular signature of the oasis

Dubai / DSO headquarters complex, from UAE Interact
Dubai / DSO headquarters complex, from UAE Interact

The most remarkable and also the very first architecture in Dubai Silicon Oasis is the headquarters complex. It is designed by Lebanon-based architectural firm Khatib & Alami. Local United Engineering Construction (UNEC) takes up the engineering work.

The giant complex expands around 200m in width with 6 identical wing buildings. It not only houses the administration office of DSOA, but also provides office facilities for high-tech companies and public sector organizations. Meanwhile, it is home to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Dubai-based satellite campus.

Dubai / DSO headquarters complex as the solitary island in desert, from Global Gate
Dubai / DSO headquarters complex as the solitary island in desert, from Global Gate

One important feature about the headquarters complex is lacking contextual attachment, since the project started as a reclamation in the desert. That brings about several unique facts. The first one is its striking scale. According to Rem Koolhaas, that is one vital characteristic of architectures in globalization. The location in ‘tabulae rasae’ areas makes arbitrary expansion possible¹. Secondly, it reveals Dubai’s notion towards architecture – as independent symbol of the city, region, or power². The fascination about giant symbolic architecture is a response under globalization. The significance is an approach to attract investors, tourists and visitors. Thirdly, it provides an opportunity for the architects to do whatever they want. As an architect said:’ Aesthetically speaking, there are some height limitations… But aside from this, there are very few limitations to what we can do’³. That may also explain why Dubai has such an overwhelming architecture style ‘exhibition’.

The choice of Lebanon firm Khatib & Alami is also thought-provoking. Lebanon is a small country with fewer opportunities. That becomes the crucial force prompting Khatib & Alami to branch out into 32 worldwide offices4. For Dubai government, choosing a non-local architectural firm to design the most important building in Silicon Oasis is an opportunity to show its willingness to foreign involvement, and also to see how Dubai’s culture can be interpreted through a global lens.

The 6 wing buildings of the complex are designed as ‘the Coca-Cola of architecture’5. They are identical, typical glass-walled office buildings under the modernism trend. Differently, the middle building imitates the shape of a palm tree, from its round body to dendritic structure on top. That can be regarded as an interpretation of Dubai’s local element. It is vague to categorize the complex into one style. An interesting quote from the interview with an architect is that,’ In Dubai we generally follow a style known as interpretive modernism… an international, modern style in which the functional meets the decorative’6. We can understand it as a result of architect’s autonomy in Dubai, where they can reinvent and reinterpret the architectural wheel on the free land.

Programmaticly speaking, as mentioned above, the complex is a mixed use in administrative, commercial, and institutional. It is coherent with its spectacle urban scale. Mixture of uses helps to promote the cross-fertilization of ideas and experiences7. Stated by DSOA, they are willing to see knowledge transforms into technology. The juxtaposition of university and offices may help this. Besides, Silicon Oasis is aimed to be a ‘smart city’, which emphasizing on the Information and Communication Technology and Internet of Things. Mixing programs within one complex is easier for the implementation of telecommunication infrastructures.

The Silicon Oasis headquarter complex is an interesting example to see how globalization forces and economic liberalism shape architecture in Dubai. It is vague to say it belongs to which pole of globalization – homogenization or localization. It has its own discourse on how architecture can function as a symbol representing the Silicon Oasis. To some extent, it may become an economic strategy.




  1. Rem Koolhaas, ‘Architecture and Globalization.’ in Reflections on Architectural Practice in the Nineties, ed. William Saunders, (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996)
  2. Yasser Elsheshtawy, Dubai: Behind an urban spectacle, UK: Routledge, 2009.
  3. Oxford business group, Construction and Real Estate. Dubai Report, Dubai: OBG, 2006.
  4. Khatib & Alami, About us, Khatib & Alami Official Website, Retrieved from:
  5. Robert Adam, “Globalization and architecture,” ARCHITECTURAL REVIEW-LONDON– 1332 (2008): 74.
  6. Oxford business group, Construction and Real Estate,  2006.
  7. Jane Jacobs, The death and life of great American cities, New York : Modern Library, 1993.




Adam, Robert. “Globalisation and architecture.” ARCHITECTURAL REVIEW-LONDON– 1332 (2008): 74.

Elsheshtawy, Yasser. Dubai: Behind an urban spectacle. UK: Routledge, 2009.

Jacobs, Jane. The death and life of great American cities. New York : Modern Library, 1993.

Khatib & Alami. About us. Khatib & Alami Official Website. Retrieved from:

Koolhaas, Rem. ‘Architecture and Globalization.’ in Reflections on Architectural Practice in the Nineties, edited by William Saunders. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.

Oxford business group. Construction and Real Estate. Dubai Report. Dubai: OBG, 2006.


1 Comment on “Dubai (2000s) / DSO / DSO Headquarters Complex: spectacular signature of the oasis

  1. It’s quite interesting to see that the symbol of ‘palm tree’ is being widely used in architectures in Dubai. The highly autonomous building form could be seen as a statement of Dubai. Such symbolic form and uniqueness scale made Dubai itself a symbol which is quite successful for a city emerging from nowhere to some extent. The architecture itself questions about the notion of globalization in the current days. From my knowledge about this newborn city, in some ways, the effort of building a unique image of Dubai was trying to attract investments around the world to cover its bubble economy since the day the city was developed. Just like you said, the architecture itself could become a new way of economic strategy.

Leave a Reply

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