Dubaï, desertic city or the timeless urbanism

Posted on September 9, 2011 by


The first impressive thing while landing in Dubaï in the middle of august is this humid hotness, this immediate sensation of suffocation, transforming every transportable glassed surface into a condensation support when the first door slides (good bye beloved new lens of my beloved new camera… I’ll miss you).

18°C inside. 45°C outside. Humidity level: maximal.

Looking for the ideal comfortable zone and totally unable to think properly, I am heading to the first solution coming: a taxi.

It quickly goes to THE road of Dubaï, a 2 times X roads, punctuated by some huge metro stations, looking like shiny golden insects ready to stand up to take the city away with them in a science-fiction revolution, post apo-capitalistic.

On the left side, a dense but thin curtain of high-rise glass buildings. On the right side, a dense but thin curtain of high-rise glass buildings… And absolutely no links between them except their highness and their ground level architectural treatment, strange, on the secondary roads all parallels to THE main one. Far behind, the higher tower of the world which, in the present fog, doesn’t seem so high.

There is something fascinating. There is something disturbing.

It must be the distance…

It is obviously a question of distance. The buildings are often separated by voids thiner than their own length. The road has no end. Behind the curtain, nothing is visible. The horizon is blur. Linear utopia from which the skyline cannot be perceptible neither contemplated from nowhere.

Can we call “city” a space which has neither center, nor history, where the streets are not made for walking, where inhabitants seem to not live in, where everything is confronting everything without never facing it?

I don’t see no one. But I don’t want to believe that this city is desertic. As I don’t want to believe that it’s just a way to testify the ambition of its authoritarian planners. I went to Dubaï to find out the answers to some questions: “Is the fake less valuable than the true if they are similar? Can history be abstracted to see only beauty? If the Alhambra / the Louvre / the Pantheon were rebuilt strictly identical now in this / a new space, could we oppose to the emotion felt the intellectual argument based on the relation of beauty and authenticity? Wouldn’t we have any aesthetic satisfaction? … Kant or Platon?”

In love with contradictions and unable to perceive all the nuances Dubaï is trying to hide from my eyes behind its cultural (religious?) shyness and its mirrored-colored glasses (everywhere!), I walked around looking for at least not aesthetics but urban emotions. And I have a real method to do so: it’s called chance.

I am discovering another city, which is to the postcard-DubaÏ the equivalent of Kuzutetsu for Zalem in the dystopian Gunnm. A “city from the bottom” too extended to perceive its limits, lived by the sculptors of the “city from the top”, where a labyrinth of narrow streets separate horizontal houses, hermetics, identical and spread around, punctuated by an exaggerated number of parabolic antennas. I’m going on and I’m lost, waiting for the night to show up and with it, the end of the forbidden eating-drinking-smoking and the enlightenment of the glass sentinels. But in a linear city, axes are parallels: the technological decor is just a background, behind a human scaled concrete wall. The light city is floating. Copy-Paste… Cut-Paste. Its presence reminds me the mirador in the center of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: a ghost mirador which doesn’t need human presence to affirm its charisma, and with it, its rules. The “city from the bottom” is spread down inside invisible frontiers, presenting an impenetrable urbanism of walled residential areas planned before the streets network. Voids and abandoned construction sites punctuate the urban fabric in which a poor nature tries to exist.

Some distance… I have to take some distance.

True/fake/authentic/artificial/plain/empty/high/low/horizontal/vertical… I am certainly in paradox city. But the interests in paradox city are the nuances, not the extremes. I see from the taxi a white concrete building contrasting with its glassed neighbors. A small building*: 22 floors high, 102 m, a concrete lace skin separated from the glass facade, certainly made to reduce energy wastes due to the necessary general love for air conditioning. Not inappropriate. Someone attracts my attention: “Do you want to see it from the top?” … “Really? I can?” … 10 minutes after, a construction site helmet completing my summer dress code, a worker activates a small craft elevator through the construction site of a small tower – 265 m – from where I can surprise workers quietly resting, floor after floor, until the rooftop.

From here, the concrete building seems smaller. From here, the view is perfect. And what we can see is what is missing to this city to become a city: time. Time is necessary, even more than a global planning. It needs time to densify. When a city is dense, things are consequently close the ones to the others. It is just a question of time… and distance.

And only after time, we would be able to enunciate some “maybes” for Dubaï.

* O-14 // Reiser+Umemoto architects NYC

* 2nd price International Photography Awards 2011, Category Architecture: Cityscapes non-pro // http://www.photoawards.com

* a french version of this post is available here: http://www.urbain-trop-urbain.fr/peut-etre-dubai/

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