Dubai/ National Identity and the living unit I

National Identity of Dubai

Through the course of over 3 decades, Dubai were able to slowly build up their name as a n international trading port, attracting foreign investors and allowing for the urbanization of Dubai to happen within these 30 years. Buildings were built in a blink of an eye with the help of the foreign architects, designed to be luxurious, to be eye catching icons of the countries. There is the burj khlifa, the 259 story skyscraper, screaming “We have the best construction technology!”. However, as the buildings rose, Dubai has become representative of glass, modernistic, international and skyscrapers.

On the other side, the Palm islands, notably the Palm Jumeirah in 2005, has been long known by people around the world, as the second icon of Dubai after Burj Khalifa. It follows the shape of a Palm tree and was topped with a crescent.  The “palm leaves” of the villa creates new shorelines and lines luxurious villas along, representing well of the fancy and extravagant lifestyle of the new Dubai.

As more and more new buildings were stamped onto the map of Dubai, the sense of maintaining and representing their tradition and culture were stripping away slowly. Masked by the luxurious and extravagant lifestyles.

To sum up, their representation of national identity weighs more towards the success of economy, their wealth and power than the cultural aspects.

Taking a deeper look, the dubai housings built were less for the locals but for the migrants and foreigners. The identity was crashing down due to the bringing in of new cultures and traditions and overtaking the original. In 2016, Dubai has come to an estimated population of 2,504,000, yet native residents only consisted of 15 percent of the total population and the rest being expatriate composing of mostly Asians from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines. (World Population Review. 2017) Which may explain the lack of cultural representations in the later days architecture.


The representation of a living unit

The Commercial buildings were usually the ones used as icons to represent a country or a city, as they were the buildings that were “out in the scene”. Leading to the elaborate designs of its form and facades. Then, why are we looking into the living unit for its national identity?

The living unit had often been overlooked, deemed as insignificant, yet a lot can actually be read from its plan and from the experiencing of a housing unit. The housing unit is a mirror to the patterns of living, the cultural context and the aspirations in society. From the organization of spaces, it demonstrates their everyday habits and organization of domestic life.(Gurel. 2007) The modern dwelling units are mainly functional, non-decorative with the lack of symbols, yet they attributes values of aesthetic, use and sentimental to the society. (Kent. 1993) It is a more humanistic approach towards national identity, of signifying the social values within the society.

Moreover, residential designs should create a sense of place and belonging by integrating the characteristics of the built context through reinterpreting the built cultural and symbolic elements in a modernistic way, to trigger and maintain the local identity. (Aliyu. 2015)


Kent, S. (1993). Domestic Architecture and the Use of Space. Cambridge University Press.

Gurel, M.H. (2007). Domestic space, modernity, and identity. Dissertation Abstracts International.

Aliyu, M. 2015. Built Environment in Transition: The Significances of Postmodern Residential Designs in Cultural Sustainability. International Journal of Architecture, Arts and Applications. Vol. 1, No. 2, 2015, pp. 30-40.

World Population Review. 2017. Dubai Population 2017.

1 Comment on “Dubai/ National Identity and the living unit I

  1. Dubai is notably one of the most luxurious and dramatic cities in the world. It is known for its extravagant buildings and flamboyant lifestyle. It is intriguing to see that architecture plays such a large role in shaping Dubai’s national identity, but also quite upsetting as it overtook many important aspects of its culture. I believe Dubai is way too overdone and has lost its historical pre-oil identity. There is value and beauty in its past – such as historical architecture, aboriginal culture, and the pre-oil Dubai before it was artificially built to be lavish. I am interested in seeing how Dubai used to be, before the glam and how its original identity and culture can be preserved, on top of the luxury.

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