Dubai/ National identity and the living unit II

The disappearance of National Identity

Examining Dubai in particular, the housings built were less catered for the locals, but rather for migrants and foreigners. Their innate identity was subdued and diminished due to the influx of new cultures and traditions, imposing itself over the countries original national identity. In 2016, Dubai’s population had risen to an estimated 2,504,000; yet native residents only consisted of 15 percent of the total population, whilst the rest were composed of mainly Asian expatriates stemming from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines. (World Population Review. 2017) This conceptual gentrification effect could be one of the main reasons dictating the lack of cultural representations in the latter day’s of Dubai’s architectural landscape.

As the expatriate’s population within the country grew, so did the discrepancies of lifestyles adopted within the national community. An example; as an Islamic city, alcohol is prohibited and banned from being purchased by the general public in supermarkets. Though this is the law, it seemed to fall within a grey area as perceived by the public as champagnes and wines were sold in the bars of hotels and other establishment. (Anand. 2017) This ambiguity in both legal and public standards is ubiquitous in Dubai, and is ultimately a consequence of the globalization phenomenon.


As the effect of globalization strengthens, international firms continue to establish their eastern branches within Dubai, taking advantage of the new and existing developments within the city center. With the expatriate’s population overwhelming the national population of Dubai, designs of space were no longer expressive and aligned to the unique culture and traditions of Dubai. Buildings were designed to be compact and functional, emphasizing the efficient use of space in order to accommodate the exponentially expanded human inhabitants of this cultural and business amalgamated city. (Fry, n.d.)

Moreover, globalization led the architectural landscape within the city to be designed in more universal and general terms. Materials used consisted mostly of glass, steel and concrete, entities which emphasized functionality and practicality; sadly, the city no longer bears the unique identity it once held at the core of its existence, which pales even less in comparison when aligned to other cities within the country, all due to the consequence and summation of continued cultural neglect. Rather than the prestigious and historic Islamic hub that Dubai was once famous for, its current identity to the world is an unhealthy and tasteless mishmash of over the top extravagant lifestyles, skyscrapers, expensive exotic pets and gold. Although some aspects of its present form is to be appreciated, it is always unfortunate to witness a disintegration of cultural and historic vale amidst this continued effect of globalization.

Living Unit

Through the progression of globalization, Dubai’s architecture and in effect its residential units became unfathomably generic and universal, in the sense of catering to whatever its buyers and new inhabitants desired. The colorful and unique features of the traditional majlis, verdanah and courtyards were stripped and displaced by the basic and westernized terms of living and dining rooms. Adaptations of the aforementioned globalized terms and wordings were indeed more relevant for the foreign developers and designers; however with this transition, Dubai had gradually lost sight of its traditional infrastructural design and distinct special composition. With the fruition of globalization perpetuating this shift in Dubai’s architectural design standards, it’s living units were consequently and undeniably also losing its core conceptual Islamic architectural influence.

The world is currently going through a new era of globalization, where we are seeing an exponential increase in consolidation between people, cultural, and social landscapes at a universal scale. Although this does have its benefits when viewed through an economic lens, one cannot view solely observe and evaluate change from a single point of view, neglecting the intangible and soft factors that once made held Dubai up as a city of national importance.

In the route of discovering and establishing their identity in the present world of today, Dubai will continue to struggle to strike a fine balance between preservation and globalization. With this in mind, could a globalized city become an inevitability for this once historically significant city? Only time will tell…



Anand, S. (2017.) Booze and bulls***: The dark side of Dubai.

Al Hammadi, I. (2017.) Affordable housing in Dubai, a reality or mirage?.Linkedin.

Fry, M. (n.d.) Globalisation and ‘placeless’ Architecture. Scribd. Retrieved from:

AlSayyad, N. (2010.) Culture, Identity and Urbanism: A Historical Perspective from Colonialism and Globalisation. London: Black Dog Publishing London UK.

2 Comments on “Dubai/ National identity and the living unit II

  1. The question of national identity in today’s globalized world has been rightly addressed in your post. This is an issue faced by many major international cities nowadays. Under the influence of globalization, cities struggle to represent themselves as an international city, often through their skyscrapers built of glass and steel, in a style we had named as international style. Dubai is undoubtedly one of the representatives of this phenomenon.

    Cities are identified by other parts of the world through their skyline – a visual identity captured and printed on postcards. The ‘identity’ in this context is no longer the ‘national identity’, which focuses on the internal unity in identity as a nation, but an international one, represents the nation externally. The concept of identity represented through these generic signs of modernity has fell as representation of the international status of a city, rather than the socio-cultural originality that the term ‘national identity’ should historically embody.

    In fact, it would be interesting and meaningful to re-discover the true national identity of Dubai behind the skyline imagery through looking at the plans and spatiality of the living units of local settlements that resisted the forces of globalization, rather than the generic ones that are universal to other places in the world. Perhaps more emphasis should be put on the authentic living space inhabited by the locals rather than the luxurious ones dwelled by the wealthy migrants and foreigners.

  2. Due to its rapid development by the oil industry and the close relationship with the United States, Dubai was build in a very typical American style in terms of life style and urban planning. The tradition of vernacular Dubai seemed to be so weak when facing the strong western capital together with western people and western life style.

    During my trip together with my cousin to Dubai months ago, he said he can easily tell the brands of shops and restaurants at crossroads and what is what on the next just because he lives in America and was so familiar with the urban arrangements. Plus, cars dominate the streets and roads as in America. The Dubai city was simply built along the main avenue called Sheikh Zayed Rd which even extends all the way to Abu Dhabi. The whole city looks like an enlarged street with only one row of buildings on each side. And beyond the wall of skyscrapers beside the main avenue, there is nearly nothing. Not only the life style and urban planning, but also the details show their American Style. The lack of delicacy is telling its rough truth behind the glory surface like what you will see in a hotel room in Dubai.

    To sum up, I personally think the biggest reason of Dubai losing its own tradition is being too similar to the United States and it having no ways to refuse.

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