Iconic Shape of Palm Jumeirah – Island Making as Human Endeavor

The shape can be read from the sky from above. A prime example is the great wall in China, which can be seen meandering on the surface of the planet. However the actual shape of the island appears on satellite image largely matters. It is, therefore, of utmost importance, to design the icon. The architectural plan is now no longer a device for generating spatial idea, but rather a geometric representation of an object.


Spatial ideas are incubated by formal wildness. Larry Ziebarth mentioned “the fronds create a lot of shoreline.” Circular form, as the geometry which has the least exterior perimeter and most interior area at the same time, is evaded. Breakwater crescents are extensively adopted to provide space for islands, forming the branches of the tree.

Master plan of the Palm Island (Source : HHCP)


The shape does not bear any localized culture as palm trees are grown in all of the Arab or tropical countries. It is just an arbitrary and eclectic combination of signs. In the process, the design team even went through other peculiar shapes, like “restart button”. Iconography makes the project streamlined, calculable, reliable easy to market and easy to consume.


Satalitte image of the area



Devoid of any historical embeddedness, this iconic project is clean for visitor or laymen to accept. In the process of globalization, places are to a large extent sold as images. The client insisted the iconic character of the island must come from the bizarre form. Sheikh Mohammed said “This was gonna be the Sydney Opera House of Dubai.” The pursuit of iconic form to the extreme is manifested. 

Iteration of icons (Source: SMAQ)



Jacobs, A. J. (2013). The world’s cities : contrasting regional, national, and global perspectives. Routledge

SMAQ. (2012). Charter of Dubai : a manifesto of critical urban transformation. Jovis

Steffen W. , Katrin B. , Christian S. , Birgit K. (2014). Under construction : logics of urbanism in the Gulf Region. Routledge.

2 Comments on “Iconic Shape of Palm Jumeirah – Island Making as Human Endeavor

  1. It could be an interesting and good representative of the thought of “The Society of the Spectacle” proposed by Guy Debord. Could you interpret more about the ideology behind these artificial lands?

    Moreover, could you add other 3 narratives, historical documents and bibliography items before the due date?

    • It is an interesting comparison between the iconography ideas of Larry Ziebarth, the architect of the Palm Island, and the “The Society of the Spectacle”, which mentioned the idea of authenticity has degraded into representation, worsened by the decline of human life. In this case, the ideology of the island as icon of a palm tree is just arguably attributed to the symbolic meaning of endurance. But as I mentioned in the post, palm tree can be found anywhere in the middle east, so it is less convincing to say that palm tree is representative of Dubai. Anyhow, once representation becomes overwhelming, it adversely affects human perception because of its purity and simplicity.

      Another related precedent to this idea of representation is Andy Warhol’s argument of mass culture, as embodied in his paintings, in which he celebrated the hyper reality of mass production, that I didn’t have the chance to touch on. It’s also an interesting idea when representation of something becomes another entity that refers to nothing but itself. We could theorize this in multiple ways, but at the end of the day, it comes down to whether the project could create impact on the community, and in this case, it does in a lot of ways.

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