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Max Skjöldebrand is a qualified architect educated at Cambridge University and the London Business School. He lives and works in Dubai as Director of Business Development for John Robertson Architects, a London-based firm where Max was a Director prior to re-locating to Dubai from London. He is a keen photographer and travels extensively in the region. He is also interested in music and is a leading member of the Dubai Concert Committee.
The image of Dubai is already well established as a city of spectacular off-shore developments, signature buildings and a top tourist destination. This article highlights some of the prime building projects which underpin the aspirations of Dubai to be a world-class city.

By way of background, the original city of Dubai lies on each side of a large inlet known as the Creek. The areas of Bur Dubai on the one side and Deira on the other, both include mature business districts and historical areas which have been carefully restored recently. Over the past 35 years, Dubai has grown along the coast towards the border with Abu Dhabi. More recently, this extraordinary development has extended inland into the desert across a broad front parallel to the coast.

To support these new developments, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is investing US$26bn in a massive infrastructure programme for roads. The 2020 Plan includes the construction of 9 new ring roads and 95 interchanges across the Emirate of Dubai. The RTA is also improving and increasing the crossings over the Creek to reduce transportation bottlenecks. One existing bridge has been widened and a second is being replaced. A completely new 12-lane bridge has been built and a temporary floating bridge has been constructed. The competition winner for the design of a new sixth crossing was announced recently: FXFOWLE INTERNATIONAL. At 1,600m in length, this will be the largest and tallest spanning arch bridge in the world, with 12 lanes and a Dubai Metro line.

At the same time, the construction of the new Dubai Metro is a priority. This will be one of the most advanced and, at 318km, the longest fully automated urban rail system in the world. The driverless system will have four lines comprising an elevated mono-rail system for much of the length and underground sections in the central business areas. The first two lines will have a total of 57 stations of which 10 will be underground. The tunneling works for one line were completed recently. The elevated pre-cast concrete track and the construction work for the stations, designed  by Aedas, are visible throughout Dubai. The first phase, covering 35 km of the network, is due for completion by May 2009.  The public transport system will also include a 318km tram network, 3,000km bus network and a 450km marine transport network.

Finally, in relation to infrastructure, at the new Al Maktoum Airport, near Jebel Ali, the first of six runways has been completed. This is only one component of a larger construction plan being implemented in the area by Dubai World Central. The airport itself is scheduled to begin operations in the first quarter of 2008.

The off-shore developments comprising the three Palms (Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira), the World and Waterfront are all well advanced. Many sections of The Palm Jumeirah are now occupied. Land reclamation for Palm Jebel Ali is nearing completion and land reclamation for the Palm Deira is 30% complete. Land reclamation for the 300 islands comprising The World is complete. The next phase involves the building of infrastructure and construction by developers. Recently, the developer Nakheel unveiled detailed plans for Waterfront. This will comprise an inland development and 6 man-made islands adjacent to Palm Jebel Ali with a total population of 1.5 million. Every building located within Waterfront will have to have a Gold LEED certification.

Nakheel has also announced three new major projects: another island development, The Universe, which will be located between the mainland and The World development; Dubai Promenade, a mixed-use waterfront development involving land reclamation near Palm Jumeirah, and a $12bn overhaul of the original Port Rashid which will be expanded by land reclamation and transformed into a mixed-use waterfront development housing up to 200,000 people.

Festival City with its central location on the Creek is one of the most high profile developments under construction. Although this project is only one-third complete, facilities now available for residents and visitors already include the Marsa Plaza, Four Seasons, Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza Hotels, Festival Marina, Al Badia residences and Golf Course and the Festival Power Centre shopping centre which includes IKEA and the world’s largest Marks & Spencer outside the UK. 

Ground has been broken for the first phase of the Dubai World Trade Centre District which is a major redevelopment of the existing Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre. Phase I, designed by Hopkins Architects and immediately adjacent to the existing Centre, will be a unique mixed-use urban quarter of offices, apartments, hotels and retail use. A design competition for Phase II was launched in December. The existing international exhibition centre will eventually be relocated to a much bigger new facility immediately adjacent to new Al-Maktoum Airport near Jebel Ali.

Burj Dubai designed by SOM is now visible from most parts of Dubai, as it continues to rise above the skyline.  It is only from a distance on the outskirts of Dubai that the true height of the building can be appreciated against neighbouring buildings of 40-50 storeys. By mid-February it had reached a height of 604.9m (1985 feet) with 159 floors completed. Construction of the concrete structure finished at around 585m and contractors are currently working on the steel structure on top and the spire. The installation of the external cladding is progressing and one can now at last gain an impression of the final appearance. Completion is expected by the end of 2008.

Also rising high above the Dubai skyline close to Burj Dubai, in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) district, is the Index by Foster and Partners. It is currently above 60 storeys. When completed later this year, the 80 storey multi-purpose tower will provide state-of-the-art offices designed for multinational corporations and luxury apartments. Index includes 25 floors of office space, 40 floors for apartments, 7 dedicated penthouses and 3 levels for exclusive retail outlets. The configuration and height of the building give it an imposing appearance. It is due to be completed in 2008.

Also in the DIFC, the new Ritz Carlton Hotel, designed by Gensler, near the Gate Building (also designed by Gensler), is currently under construction almost up to roof level. The new 14 storey hotel will provide 340 guestrooms and suites, 124 serviced apartments, and 70,000ft² of retail space. The hotel is expected to become a premier destination for business executives visiting Dubai. Completion is scheduled for late 2008.

The DIFC Gate Village, designed by Hopkins Architects, is currently being occupied by firms operating in the DIFC. The Gate Village is an impressive medium rise complex of buildings separated by pedestrian alleyways with up market retail units at ground level.

Two significant buildings located in and adjacent to the Trade Centre district have been completed recently. The first is The Monarch and the other is the World Trade Centre Residence. The original concept design for The Monarch was by RTKL, however, RMJM took the project over in August 2003. The Monarch consists of two towers, one office and one hotel, with a clear visual symmetry between the two. The World Trade Centre Residence, for which the schematic and project architects are TRO Jung Brannen, is a striking 40 storey apartment building with duplex apartments built to a very high standard.

The very large number of tall towers under construction at Dubai Marina and Business Bay give the impression that Dubai is a vast building site.

Located in Dubai Marina, Pentominium, designed by Aedas, is aiming to be the tallest residential tower in the Middle East. It is being marketed as a ‘bouquet of luxury” with well-known luxury brand names allied to the project. The building is due for completion in 2010.

In Business Bay, The Opus designed by Zaha Hadid is one of the more dramatic new buildings to have been launched in Dubai. Most commercial units are already sold. It is due to be completed in the first quarter 2010.

Vision Tower designed by Thompson, Ventulett, Steinback & Associates (TVS) is also under construction in Business Bay. It will incorporate 500,000 sq. ft. of commercial space and will, undoubtedly, be one of the iconic structures of Dubai with its 60 storey vertically-curved façade, back-lit internally through the roof reflecting light in different directions.  The building is due to be completed in late 2008. Also under construction in Business Bay is The Binary, designed by local Dubai firm Dubarch. The plan of The Binary features distinctive curved facades and comprises two 21- and 25-storey freehold commercial towers fused at the centre. The 4-level podium will contain a medical centre, commercial and retail units. The building is due to be completed in the second quarter of 2009. Synergy (also in Business Bay) designed by Sanjay Puri Architects,is set to begin phase one of construction.

Ground has been broken for the new RTA Headquarters in Deira designed by Zwarts & Jansma Architects. The building has been described as a glass crystal with Venetian blinds. The angled and inclined façades are derived from the angular site plan.  The façade facing one of the new bridges across the Creek and will be covered with a grid of LED-lights to look like a ‘billboard’ showing images, animations or information on the flow of traffic crossing the Creek. Water will play a significant role as the building will be situated in an artificial lake with various water features.

The Wave Tower, a 92 storey mixed-use tower, by A-Cero Architects, is one of the most elegant new buildings featured recently in the local architectural press. Its location is technically confidential because of its aesthetic and functional philosophy. It will have a high performance double-skin façade.

James Law Cybertecture has been commissioned to design 12 buildings in Dubai, including the Pad Tower (Business Bay), The Pixel and Megawave (both in Waterfront).  All three buildings, with highly distinctive facades, are high rise residential buildings incorporating a symbiotic mix of technology, architecture, interior design and software. All three projects are scheduled for completion in 2010.

The Al Warqaa Courtyard apartment complex, designed by the Emirati firm CENTIMETERCUBE, is different from most other residential developments in Dubai. It displays local and historical architectural precepts, inspired specifically by Bastakiya, the old quarter of courtyard wind tower houses in Bur Dubai. The courtyard encompasses 2 key components in Arabian architecture: privacy and protection. The introverted courtyards provide a green respite away from the distractions and noise of traffic and construction. The 12 courtyards are physically and visually linked and provide natural ventilation throughout the complex.

Great emphasis is now being placed on sustainability. In November 2007 H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, mandated that all buildings constructed in Dubai must comply with LEED regulations. New Year's Day 2008 marked the start of new regulations governing sustainable building. New legislation was introduced requiring every building to have 30% sustainability. The Emirates Green Building Council has officially launched ‘Leader in Energy and Environmental Design Emirates’ (LEED Emirates), with a current 9-month pilot project which will include 25 design stage buildings in the UAE. The aim is to achieve  nationwide ratification of the LEED system by September 2008. LEED Emirates will have a greater focus on water efficiency.  To date only one building in the UAE has achieved the highest Platinum LEED certification: the Pacific Controls HQ building in Dubai Techno Park near Jebel Ali. The office buildings in Phase I of the Dubai World Trade Centre development will be designed to the best environmental standards to achieve “LEED Platinum” status. All buildings in Waterfront and Palm Jebel Ali developments and new buildings in Business Bay are specifically required to be designed to meet LEED environmental standards.