I had the good fortune of staying in an apartment rented by a Hungarian skyscraper architect, with a view of the Burj Khalifa. Which, I’m sure you’ve heard, is the world’s tallest building. Tom Cruise climbed up the side of it. (My hostess said a friend worked on that production. They paid more than half a million dollars to take 22 windows off the building while they were shooting.) It is glittery and beautiful, and it lends a distinctly Oz-like element to the city.
Did I take a photo of the view? I did not. Meant to. Completely forgot.
This is what it looked like out the other side of the apartment (my bedroom) when I arrived.
It didn’t clear up for several days, and I drifted around in a sort of apocalyptic fugue state until it did. Ah, here we go:
In the lower left part of that picture, you can see some strange silver things that look like cooling towers. My hostess explained that’s a central cooling plant for all the buildings around that area. Fascinating. Air-conditioning is as essential as oxygen here, I think.
I also failed to get a decent photo of Dubai’s other landmark building, the Burj al-Arab. I remember when it was built, and it looked pretty damn dramatic. Now the city has built up a bit, so that it doesn’t look like some weird space pod in the middle of nothing. Very near it is an attractive mall in a faux-old-bazaar style. I’m not even being ironic–it was attractive. It also happens to be built nearly on the site of the oldest Islamic-era settlement in the Emirates. That’s not irony–that’s just destiny, I guess.
Another huge development is the Dubai Marina. I stayed here the last few days of my trip. It’s even walkable. That is, if you really don’t mind walking, especially across 22 lanes of traffic (there’s an overpass–don’t worry!). My first host, the skyscraper architect, had worked on a building in this area.
If you’re thinking, Wait–that all looks surprisingly tasteful–I thought Dubai was tacky?…well, yeah. The golden hour does wonders. There are also quite a lot of average-height, average-style buildings. There are a lot of token arches stuck on top of tall buildings, I guess to give them a faux-Islamic look. And then there are these arches, stuck on the top of these tall buildings:
Can the Chrysler Building sue for copyright infringement? And there are two of them because…? Because why not! That’s Dubai in a nutshell.
Anyhoo, because there are people from all over the world designing buildings here, you get some interesting mash-ups. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with this apartment complex (the lower part, foreground), because those little spires on top are straight out of Asia, but there’s also some kind of Mediterranean vibe:
Dubai, to my surprise when I first went there in 2011, does have a semi-old part of town. You never read about that in the breathless architecture stories. The odd thing about the old-ish parts of any of the Emirati cities is that they’re usually penned in and dubbed a “Heritage Zone” or something like that. The buildings are like zoo animals–the ones that are so depressed they won’t mate, and so will eventually go extinct.
The old fort in Dubai is now a museum. A fairly good museum, in fact, filled with waxworks and assorted dioramas and even taxidermy flamingos. But the sun is setting on all that. Or is that just a shadow cast by all the tall buildings?