Dubai /Overview of the change of residential areas in urban scale

The city of Dubai has changed rapidly within less than a century, it was once a small coastal village living on fishing activities and transformed into a metropolitan nowadays. Before the start of oil exploration, people rely on small-scale trading activities. As the activities relied on the river transportation, the original city developed around the Dubai Creek. It is divided into 3 zones, Deira as the commercial centre, Bur Dubai as the government centre, and Al Shindagha as the main residential area.

Al Shindagha

Before 1960, the population of Dubai is at around 90,000. Since Dubai lies directly within the Arabian Desert, taking the dry and hot climate into account, the settlement of people is in a low density. People lived in wind tower to adapt to the windy climate. From the photos taken in 1960 shown above, it shows that settlements actually scattered around the creek

These settlements are found along Dubai Creek, Al Bastakyia is one of the oldest village found in Dubai. These original wind towers have been preserved, where up to 55 homes were found. In 1960, the Dubai government invited a British Architect John Harris to outline the master plan for Dubai. Introducing the road system, facilities and infrastructure, the city began to expand and more settlements were found in the inland area.

Aerial photo of Palm Islands

From 1999 onwards, the first high rise building is being constructed in Dubai and was extensively constructed in Dubai. There is also a change in the cityscape of Dubai, as the high rise building began to block and hide the low-rise wind tower. During 2001, we can also see that housing is also expanded to the artificial island areas.

Dubai 2015 Cityscape

Looking back ten years later from the first appearance of the city, the population was close to 2.4 million. For the coming Dubai 2020 Master Plan, it is envisioned that the emirate could be home to 3.4 million people. From the approach of urban planning, there is also an approach in densifying the central parts of Dubai so as to solve the problem of remote cities where the communities lack connections. However, this also raises the concern of further diminishing the vernacular architecture.There are multiple self-sufficient communities in Dubai, including Arabian Ranches, Al Maktoum City and Jumeirah Village Circle. However, for the Dubai 2020 Master Plan the priority in designing the city is to develop central parts before sprawling horizontally.

From this overview, we could understand the urban development of Dubai at different times. In many countries, the city starts along the river where there are more resources and treated as transportation for trading. With the introduction of the road system by John Harris, it is allowed to expand the city inland. With the technological improvement, taller buildings are also able to be constructed. However, this also creates the downfall of disappearance in the original cityscape.


Golzari, Nasser. Architecture and Globalisation in the Persian Gulf Region. S.l.: Routledge, 2016

Bohle, Hendrik, Jan Dimog, and Clarice Knowles. Architectural guide United Arab Emirates. Berlin: DOM Publishers, 2016.

4 Comments on “Dubai /Overview of the change of residential areas in urban scale

  1. I cannot stop thinking about our hometown-Hong Kong while reading this. The development started from the coastal area and then started to expand vertically by constructing high rise building and horizontally by erecting buildings inland. The two terrifying parts are densifying centre areas and the expected population growth. Soon it will be become a place packed with pencil towers, extremely high housing price, and a over-populated city, like Hong Kong, Shanghai, New York and so on. Are there another results from unceasing development? Can urban planning be a way to avoid such? Or urban planners have not thought about avoiding this because GDP is always of the utmost importance?
    Brutal fact. Ouch.

  2. Having read this text, I think the resources are and will also be the driving factor to a country’s wealth and stability. From a fishing village to a metropolitan as mentioned above, the drastic changes were only and simply because of the discovery and the global demand for oil. However, it also lies the problem that the prosperity seems to be dependent on limited resources. What if we ran out of oil? what does the city or the country have to offer in return for its economic growth then?
    Some might say Hong Kong is a land of prosperity, however, there are very limited resources in the area of Hong Kong. A large amount of drinking water came from mainland China and varies other aspects are also dependent on a second party. With that in mind, perhaps governments should position themselves carefully in the use of resources and materials in the coming century. For example, Japan has begun its campaign in minimalistic living that impacted the citizens in all positive manner, which reduces a lot of waste and energy.

  3. Settlements are usually started from creek or river where people can find essential survival resources. In the case of Dubai, the rapid development of the city is driven mainly on the fact that it has a rich reserve of oil in the country. The oil acts as a commodity that can be exchanged with a value through trading. This commodity has transformed Dubai into a world of building the impossible. Iconic architectures are erected on a monthly count. The rich in resources of the country has undoubtedly attracted elites, labour, millionaire to settle in this area to contribute to the development of the city. Resources may run out one day, the entire city is built up with solely the fact that it has a rich oil reserve. It is important to note that a lot of architectural limitations were overcome by the high running cost of the building through operating technology and labour maintenance work. I will see Dubai as a city that is not sustainable city that one day if the oil reserve ran out, it marks the death of the city. Instead of prompting the city to develop extreme architecture that is not sustainable, Dubai should focus on how to maintain the city even if the city has low capacity to support its infrastructural maintenance.

  4. After reading your historical timeline of the buildings in Dubai, it makes me think that there are actually pros and cons for the rapid and dense development. Due to the rich oil reserve, it gives Dubai the capacity to develop as a metropolis like we see it today. There is the highest building in the world, which helps make Dubai famous in the world. Without these developments, I don’t think Dubai can get the current world status. With the dense economic development, the local character is sacrificed throughout the process. But at the same time, a new and more significant city image is created in people’s mind. I think it is good to develop but meanwhile, the Dubai government should also rethink about whether a city full of skyscrapers is the direction they want to take to develop Dubai in the future. Or whether Dubai has more qualities to treasure than those modern skyscrapers?

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