Al Bastakiya, the historic district in Dubai. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News


Maintaining the upkeep of heritage buildings is vital in preserving the country’s national identity and in raising the awareness of heritage in today’s modern society, said a senior municipal official yesterday.

Speaking on the second day of the Third International Architectural Conservation conference and exhibition, Rashad Bukhash, Chairman of the Organising Committee and Director of Architectural Heritage Department at Dubai Municipality, explained the importance of putting historical areas on the cultural world map, as well as focusing on scientific research specialised in the field of heritage.

“We started restoring historical buildings in Dubai in 1991, and since then have reviewed and updated proposed draft laws and implemented regulations that classify and monitor the progress in the maintenance of heritage buildings,” said Bukhash.

In the last 21 years, 178 buildings have been restored in Dubai, including 54 buildings in Shindagha, 58 in Al Fahidi area, and 17 in Hatta Heritage Village.

As part of the country’s aim in maintaining its heritage, a federal legislation is expected to be implemented at the beginning of next year to protect antiquities in the United Arab Emirates.

“There is no federal legislation at the moment but we are changing that now, and expect the legislation to be passed within the next three months,” explained Bukhash.

Once the legislation comes into effect, it will then be possible for the UAE to register further sites with the World Heritage at Unesco. The municipality is now working on registering Dubai Creek as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2014.

“With the new legislation, it will be prohibited for individuals to sell or destroy historical buildings as well as historical documents because it partially belongs to the history and culture of the country,” he said.

Bukhash also explained that Dubai and several other emirates have their own archaeological conservation rules but there is a need to have it spread out on a federal level.

“Before any old building is demolished, we check its history and age and then carry out any maintenance if we determine that it is culturally important. Vandalising any of the old buildings, such as Al Fahidi Fort, is a criminal act and by enforcing such rules we can maintain our architectural history,” Bukhash said, pointing out that there are 3,200 heritage sites across the country.

He pointed out that one of the main challenges in preserving and maintaining architectural structures is keeping up with the pace of modernisation in the country, as in the case with private developers and owners who want to replace them with high-rise buildings.

“Some are completely compensated and others are offered a partnership with Dubai government so that both parties contribute in restoring the building,” he added.