Comment: GCC cities of the future must be more than just iconic
When Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum commissioned the Dubai World Trade Centre, it was a statement of ambition as much as anything else. Completed in the 1970s, it was for 20 years the tallest building in the emirate, standing sentry at the apex of the Sheikh Zayed Road, its back to the palaces of Za'abeel, and looking out to Abu Dhabi, the old port and the trading districts by the creek. With its adjoining exhibition halls, it was for many years the practical embodiment of Dubai’s international ambition.
The skyscrapers on Sheikh Zayed Road got taller and the city stretched out along the coast towards the country’s capital. When Dubai ran out of coastline – well, its rulers just made more. Man-made islands, 100-storey apartment blocks, 99-year leaseholds, and easy access to credit fuelled a real estate gold rush that transformed the city and created headlines around the world.
Real estate expansion was accompanied by massive state infrastructure developments and ambitious investment in hospitality and retail projects. The emirate seemed capable of building anything and everything – revolving indoor ski slopes, underwater hotels, and tower blocks shaped like camels were all suggested at some point.
Looking back over the past 15 years, it is difficult to remember what the city looked like before 2003.
The Dubai Marina was being built. There was no palm island, metro, Mall of the Emirates, or Burj Khalifa. The Burj Al Arab had surpassed the trade centre as the most iconic building in town.
Some of the same issues persist within the industry – late payments, contract disputes, lack of regulation, and the treatment and management of labour. The industry has made tangible progress on health and safety, design and build quality, and in some cases, planning.
Today the construction industry finds itself at another inflection point. This year, the rancour around late payments is at fever pitch; it seems contractors, consultants, and developers are barely on speaking terms. Dispute resolution practises at law firms are booming.
The current situation isn’t sustainable. Developers, consultants, and contractors all want the same thing – to build as cost effectively as possible. But to achieve that deceptively simple aim, all parties must learn to collaborate to an unparalleled degree, especially if the industry is to tackle the realities of rapidly changing environmental conditions, booming urbanisation, mobility, fewer resources, and further digital disruption.
Collaboration, engineering innovation and better integration of information technology are key to designing and constructing smart, sustainable, and desirable cities that people are essentially happy to work, live, and play in.
The GCC’s leaders have all committed to various ‘smart city’ projects as part of their to economic diversification programmes.
Guessing what future cities look like is a largely futile exercise, but there is little doubting the region’s ambition or the continued appetite for iconic buildings. How the industry partners to design and build sustainable, smart, and happy cites, inclusive of all residents, will provide fertile ground for future stories. We look forward to reporting them.
This article has been authored by Greg Wilson, group editorial director of ITP Business, ITP Executive, and ITP Technology at ITP Media Group, which publishes Middle East Architect. This article was originally published on Construction Week.