What happens in Dubai to the art of building is bound up with what happens to the city as a place to live and work in if it ceases to be a place in which people can exist in reasonable contentment, it will be unprofitable to discuss its architectural achievements.
As urban surface transportation becomes increasingly longer, the challenge is to develop communities that are self-contained, where work and play become intertwined. As technology continues to progress, these communities can develop independent of the upper income group stratas, where Courbousier’s vision of the “vertical garden city” is instead replaced by something less chaotic.
City planning for various neighborhoods enter the narrative here, primarily to counter the statement of the late medieval poem: “Officers and all do seek their own gain, but for the wealth of the commons no one taketh pain”.
From the centre
Of course, the best way to understand what has to be done to make the city and its surrounding more livable and workable is to begin the exploration at the centre of the town and work outwards, to construct a framework that avoids pitfalls of high land values. What has been done in Dubai, apart from building city centers such as Downtown Dubai and Business Bay, has been to make better use of the land by re-planning residential neighborhoods into great superblocks of mixed communities, with fewer streets and fewer intersections. And all but purely local traffic confined to wider arteries that run past, but not through, these neighborhoods.
We have seen this with the development of areas such as Jumeirah Village, where skyscrapers have coexisted with smaller developments in a self-contained framework, ideally situated between the traditional city centres and the Expo site.
Adding aesthetic details
In a post-pandemic scenario, capital has been pouring back into these areas, allowing for middle-income housing to flourish, as cookie-cutter developments co-exist with more bespoke ones. And where newer building efforts are concentrated towards increasing surface area and architectural improvements, thereby enhancing the value of the neighborhood.
With capital values on the rise, developers have shifted their focus not on the rigid curtain-wall type structures, but a more intimate feel whereby space is afforded the care that it deserves for residents and workers alike. Areas such as these go a long way towards easing the pressure on the main arterial road networks that crisscross the city.
As other areas prop up with similar characteristics, there is a sense of why mid-income areas are becoming attractive again. It avoids the typical pitfalls of providing for traffic relief by adding more parking garages and spaces, all of which serve the only function of attracting more traffic.
People, it seems, find it hard to believe that the cure for congestion is not more facilities for congestion. What communities need are not “greedy” buildings that hog every cubic foot of space the law allows or flashy buildings with murals in the lobby, but rather a return to first principles of the traditional town center in the post-COVID-19 world. This is where large street ways and garden spaces give way for less traffic and more of a quieter neighborhood feel. Where life and art can express itself organically.
Revitalizing the old
In Dubai, the revitalization of areas such as Al Quoz give a glimpse of what a transformation can look like, but areas such as Jumeirah Village go further in accounting for qualities that distinguish the community from its surroundings in an overall economic framework that allows affordability. This has already started to transpire with developers no longer submitting proposals that maximize built-up areas, but rather allow for developments that are spacious, affordable, and co-mingle with its surroundings.
In appraising its design, both aesthetic and functional demands are being met, stepping away from the frenzied development that was the norm during much of the first Dubai property boom. The error then was not of the architect’s or of the developer, it was rather a characteristic of the entire market.
In the recent phase, municipally-sanctioned congestion of occupancy has given way to a more somber expression of practicality and serenity. Jumeirah Village perhaps best encapsulates the new middle-income hotspot ideal in the way Karama or Bur Dubai once was. A muted masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless.