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a time for fear
 
Thursday, August 14, 2003  
oh my Dubai

liquid city

Dubai is a coastal settlement, centred on a sheltered creek that feeds into the Persian Gulf. Its people initially lived by fishing, pearling and small-scale agriculture and this remained so until the late 1800s, when Dubai's then ruler granted concessions to traders, prompting many to switch custom from Iran and Sharjah. In 1903 the British shipping line used Dubai as a base, which brought it into contact with British India for the first time. The city grew as a trading outpost and continually improved facilities to entice and entertain traders. These are its fundamentals: trade and leisure. Dubai is a maritime city, a coastal emirate. It owes its existence to water, rivers, the seas and the oceans. It owes its success to sailing skill and technique, boat technology, navigation, and free trade (the circulation of goods and capital in fluid forms and networks). Dubai is self-conscious about its maritime origin and heritage: some of its most famous buildings share the same architecural motifs, mimicking vast sails or waves. Two impressive examples: the Burj Al Arab hotel (one of the tallest buildings in the world and the only 7-star hotel, it lies on an artificial island and bursts up into the sky in a great white swoosh of sail constructed with double-Teflon-coated glass fibre) and the National Bank of Dubai (this is more like a sculpture than a building: its convex glass front again resembles a vast, gleaming sail, this time rendered with a sheer and shimmering Futurist vigour). Another good example is the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club clubhouse. One more crucial factor: in 1966 Dubai discovered oil, and this was the final catalyst in the city's ecomomic and social development. Added to the liquid routes and networks of commerce and trade was liquid gold. Dubai could now exploit and export its own wealth and remain the site and host for alien transactions. Dubai is a liquid city: its image is reflected in water, oil spills from its veins, trade converts solid assets into fluid capital. It is a purely post-industrial city, a late city with no basis in manufacture or heavy industry: oil extraction is its only concession to blue-collar labour. All else is transaction, speculation, and material luxury. Dubai's substance is contained on the software of a million laptops, the rest scatters on a sea breeze.

index to a future world
cultural hinge, taster, litmus test
quasar


Dubai is a city still under construction, a speculative and daring vision Sheikh Mohammed has begun to realise. Dubai is currently a projection of a future, exclusive Utopian city. Despite desperately low manual and menial wages, Dubai is inventing itself as the prototype city of wealth, luxury and surface detail. This is the city of work and play combined: an executive playground, a business quasar. It's not a decadent city, as such, it excells at ease and expense rather than debauchery. It's an Islamic city so laws are strict. Pornography and drugs are illegal and related crimes are heavily punished. Street vendors, car-washers and beggars are also outlawed, and the only vendors that do persist are DVD piraters. There is no cheap accommodation in Dubai, no youth hostels, no backpackers. There is no income or sales tax. Money circulates in Dubai like oxygen and blood. Life centres on little else. Massive construction projects begin constantly, artificial islands, beach resorts, luxury hotels, apartments and villas, all exclusive and expensive. Dubai is a future destination that has yet to arrive. Opulent houses and apartments on the Palm resorts have sold out before being built. Dubai lights the imagination of the world's richest: they want in on the Sheikh's vision of synthetic splendor. Dubai is a city that is styled: a city designed in its entirety, totally inorganic: a plastic Utopia. Traditional past-times and events are encouraged, such as falconry, camel racing and dhow sailing, but this is token and insignificant. The real culture is elsewhere: in the Gold Souk (a nest of streets dealing exclusively in gold) or the month-long Dubai Shopping Festival which attracts over 2.5 million visiters each year. The city spills out year by year: bands of new apartments, offices, restaurants, hotels, square metres of retail space, entertainment and lesuire facilities. Dubia deals in certain basics. Important to the appeal of Dubai in this future projection is the "greening" programme. Dubai being, essentially, a desert city, it holds little aesthetic appeal to its future visitors and settlers in this current state, so grass, palm trees and flowers are introduced and maintained by vast numbers of workers and a 24 hour watering programme. Dubai is the template for the perfect future city, no crime, low tax, and a cultural hierachy of finance and consumerism. The city stripped to its essentials.

future modes of existence perfected
style encased in style
luxury as law


I have a vision. I look to the future, 20, 30 years. I learnt that from my father, Sheikh Rashid. He is the true father of Modern Dubai. I follow his example. He would rise early and go alone to watch what was happening on each of his projects. I do the same. I watch. I read faces. I take decisions and I move fast. Full throttle.
Sheikh Mohammed

postscript: just discovered this: Dubai plans to build the world's first underwater hotel! Called Hydropolis, the hotel will resemble a giant submarine anchored in the Gulf, and accessed only by a tunnel via a waterside reception area.

12:19 AM

 
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