Architecture, Cities, Dubai, Human-Scale Architecture, Jan Gehl, Urbanism

Dubai is a city for dinosaurs, not for human beings, says architect and urbanist Jan Gehl

Jan Gehl, a Danish architect and urban design consultant based in Copenhagen, described Dubai as a “city for dinosaurs, not for human beings” during an interview about the importance of human-scale architecture and city planning.

The interview was originally published in Spanish magazine, City Managerwho spoke to Gehl, who is also the co-founder of Gehl Architects.

He explained that the starting point of human-scale architecture is being conscious of human senses and movement – which is essentially walking. He added that old cities were created to suit this.

“In the old metropolis, everything was made to a suitable size for a person, but after the introduction of modernism and the automobile, the importance of this scale was forgotten. We went from having architecture suited to the travel speed of 5 kilometers per hour, to entire cities of 60 kilometers per hour, which meant wider streets, bigger advertisements, higher buildings, where we weren’t able to see anything in detail as we moved so fast,” he said.

“So, modernism and “motorism” confused a lot of architects and planners about what was a comfortable scale for human beings. I have studied this topic for a long time and I believe that in the last 50 years, architects and planners have forgotten what a good human scale is. In the old days, they knew very well what it was,” Gehl added.

He used Dubai as as an example that defies these urban principles, contrasting it with more human-centric cities such as Venice.

“If we don’t move enough, it negatively affects our health and life expectancy drops. This is just one way to demonstrate how cities and metropolises influence our lifestyle. The built environment that we live in has enormous consequences for our lifestyle; each time we change the city we also change people’s lifestyles.”

However, in recent years architects in Dubai and across the wider Gulf region have been vocal about creating neighborhoods that focus on human-scale architecture and connectivity, as well as creating more pedestrian-friendly projects.

“There are gaps between [building] projects and architects need to sit with clients and see how best to utilise them. There is also the opportunity to redevelop older structures so that they meet modern requirements,” said Dubai-based architect Jonathan Ashmore during the 2016 designMENA Summit panel discussion entitled, ‘Integratating Dubai’s neighbourhoods through connectivity’. 

“The city has been shaped over a long period of time,” he said. “If we look back 150 years cities were actually better. We had a formula then and we need to recreate it now. What worked a century and a half ago will work in the modern day,” added Ignacio Gomez, design director for the Middle East at Aedas.  “Now the city is shaped for the car and we need to deconstruct that mentality.”

The UAE Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Biennalecurated by Masdar professor, Dr. Khaled Alawadi, also focused on exploring human-scale architecture across various locations in the UAE.

Photo by Aldo Amoretti.