As part of a recent fact finding trip to Dubai, I had the opportunity to visit the world’s tallest building – Burj Khalifa.. I wanted to build my understanding of place making in this part of the world. Looking out over this city from the 152nd floor made me wonder how it all came to pass in the last decade, and what role this elegant skyscraper occupies in how this city is forming?
Overall, my visit confirmed my long held view that one cannot judge a book by its cover – to understand a place and the spaces within it, one has to go there in person, look, feel, smell, kick the tyres, walk around and engage with those that use the place. Although my visit was a 48 hour whistle-stop tour, chance played its part in that I got to meet with a lot of people who reinforced Dubai’s pivotal connectivity role whilst also giving me the ability to form a view on this remarkable and not fully understood part of the world.
Dubai is remarkable on a number of fronts; from a western perspective, one needs to understand that it does things differently and has, despite recent economic problems, a lot to commend itself. There are three things which struck me that make this an interesting place;-
– The scale and pace of its evolution: so much has happened over the last decade.
– The diversity of the place: whilst retaining its Arab heritage, it has embraced many cultures and peoples.
– The scale of ambition and pioneering spirit of its place makers – it was refreshing to see such a can-do attitude.
The Burj Khalifa is a stunningly beautiful building, but for me it’s much more than just a skyscraper. Whilst I wouldn’t count myself as a fan of tall buildings, and indeed there are some who hold the view that skyscrapers will be defunct over time, I couldn’t help admiring Burj Khalifa as a symbol of a bold new approach to place making. It is truly symbolic not only in its design and setting in downtown Dubai, but as the centre piece of a remarkable city building initiative. Added to this is the sense of theatre one feels when visiting and one comes away feeling that it is sending a clear signal that Dubai is fast emerging as a true world city.
I came away with a much improved understanding of this most welcoming of places and a clear sense that something really special in terms of place-making is taking shape here. The pioneering yet thoughtful manner in which this is happening left me in no doubt that Dubai can be a place to nurture 21st century workspaces. Given this ‘can-do’ attitude and the refreshing approach of their place makers, I have little doubt that in the not too distant future Dubai will be regarded as a truly smart place to live, work and play.