Dubai/ Shift in typology I: Village into Instant Cities – Causes and downfall (1995-2005)

Residential clusters in Dubai have gradually shifted from village dwellings into instant cities within the territory. Within the 10 years of rapid development in the era of post oil discovery, this form of typology can be seen as an envisioning of the concept introduced by “Archigram” back in the 60s.

The idea of “Instant City” is to promote global status and real estate development on places created from scratch, constructed within a 10-20 year master plan range. Instant cities are heavily influenced by technology and mobility, by which it aims to over stimulate the culture towards an undeveloped area. With the goal of transforming underdeveloped land within a short period of time, Dubai adopted this concept and turned itself into one advanced and prosperous instant city, comprising several smaller instant cities such as Studio City, Internet City, Festival City and Media City. An ironic characteristic of instant cities, however, is that these cities were designed and planned foreign architectural firms like OMA and HOK etc., leaving little to none preservation on the sense of nationalism within the territory.

One main cause for the shift in building typology is due to Dubai’s open-door policy to non-nationals allowing them to purchase freehold properties. This can be credited for the real estate boom in the 2000s. By passing a law allowing non-nationals to own real estate in certain developments in the city, a surge of expatriates moved into the territory. The lucrative development tactics such as “zero tax on personal and corporate income “and “low import duties” have led to an increasing amount of expatriate-friendly “city-hub” developments in Dubai.

These “city-hub” developments buildup is large residential, business and entertainment development touted as “city-within-a-city”. All elements for work, living and leisure are contained within a project. A completed “city-hub” will comprise a series of residential communities, numerous hotels, malls, other entertainment sites, and a full suite of public services, including schools.

The downfall to the real estate boom, triggered by the open market, is the surge of unaffordable houses and apartments in the city along with a downtown full of expatriates whilst locals living on the periphery of the city. The significant impact on the cost of living in the city can be seen with the rose of residential rents between 20 and 40 percent in the first half of 2005 (Westley,2005). Architecturally, the construction boom in Dubai has led to a series of “dull to awkward and fragmented” city-hub developments (Figure 1). With the “city-hub” being self-sustained communities, there is a lack of relationship in between “cities” in an urban scale, creating a sense of disconnection unlike the traditional Arab villages as mentioned in the previous posts. Dubai has developed into a realm divided into displays of global cultures and mimetic Arabian landscapes, embracing high-technology based experimental prototype communities of tomorrow.

Figure 1. Dubai Urban Projects. (Dubai Municipality,  2009) 


There is no doubt that the vision and drive behind the image of “branded Dubai” campaign has attracted affluent international entrepreneurs, the “facade” architecture built on the Dubai, and poorly paid labour of workers from the subcontinent are surely unsustainable in terms of architectural development.  To deal with fragmentation of the urban fabric, Dubai has launched a raid of infrastructural projects including ring roads, double-decked highway flyovers, new bridges, a metro and monorail system, even air-conditioned bus stops—to try to solve the problem. Nonetheless, whether these developments will pose any benefits to the autonomous style of developments in Dubai is to be anticipated. It is still uncertain if these strategic plans will lead Dubai into a well connected city of tomorrow or some unsustainable real estate developments.

Samer Bagaeen. “Brand Dubai: The Instant City; or the Instantly Recognizable City.” 175-196
Katodrytis, George; Mitchell, Kevin. “The Gulf Urbanisation” Architectural Design, 2015: Vol 85, Issue 1, 8-19
Katodrytis, George; Velegrinis, Steven. “Drawing on Sand: Cities in the Making” Architectural Design, 2015, Vol 85, Issue 1, 72-79
Antoniou, Jim. “The Architectural Review in the Gulf.” The Architectural Review, 1998, 173-203

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