Reconsidering Dubai: New perspectives for cities in the Middle East?

Reconsidering Dubai: New perspectives for cities in the Middle East?

Roundtable Workshop
12 June 2009, 2-5pm
Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

In 2006, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture organised a major international conference in Kuwait City, the proceedings of which have been published in a book edited by Mohammad Al-Asad and Majd Musa entitled Architectural Criticism: Global Prospectus. In this conference and around it, there was an invisible shadow; the shadow of Dubai. Should and how could Kuwait become another Dubai? This wasn't the only case. In many architectural and urbanist circles and in the minds of city planners Dubai had been a constant reference point over the last quarter of the 20th century. Project Dubai attracted the signatures of architects across the planet. Investment in real estate in Dubai had the highest imaginable return and the future of Dubai seemed to be one of endless prosperity. For 30 years, Dubai emerged in both real time and at an imaginary level as the role model and future of architecture and city building in the world and particularly, in many Muslim societies. Having benefited from two major political events - the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and the return of Hong Kong to China in 1984 - Dubai became the case study for the "global city", "hub city" and "future city". Dubai became a myth, a dream, and a major reference for many aspects of the built environment. A very important body of scholarly work came to support this position and pass it onto the students of architecture and urbanism.

But, it seems the dream has turned to nightmare. The future-oriented perspective appears to have been a series of successive steps of runaway strategies. And although many may have an overwhelming desire to proclaim "Dubai is dead, long live Dubai", maybe it is time to reconsider how discussion, questions and analysis about the current situation in Dubai could help to broaden debates about architecture, urbanism and city planning for other Middle Eastern cities.

With this purpose in mind, a roundtable workshop will be held on Friday, 12 June 2009 at AKU-ISMC in London, which will include presentations from Hashim Sarkis (Harvard University Graduate School of Design), Farrokh Derakshani (Director, Aga Khan Award for Architecture), Brett Steele (AA School for Architecture), Nasser Rabbat (MIT), Modjtaba Sadria (AKU-ISMC), and Farshid Moussavi (Foreign Office Architects, London).

There are few aspects of the Dubai experience which might be worthwhile thinking about. This would include: first, reconsidering the use of resources in a way that accepts their limitations and acknowledges the implications of their misuse on the environment; second, rethinking the responsibility of those involved in architecture and the built environment in creating role models, and the extent to which this includes an ability to critically and self-reflexively analyse their own work; thirdly, critically analysing what was wrong in the way that Dubai was envisaged socially, culturally and in relation to the built environment; and finally, investigating how to open a new ground for thinking about the built environment and urban planning in cities in Muslim societies.