GLOBAL MEANS LOCAL TOO
How should architects respond to briefs where they are expected to throw away etiquettes and time frames which are generally considered necessary? The question loomed large at the recent World Architecture Congress, held in Dubai, which discussed among other things the place of sustainable design and human scale in the making of new urban environments. One could not escape the irony of such a discussion taking place in Dubai, still experiencing a feeding frenzy of international consultants of all kinds as construction continues to boom. How can the city-state reconcile its desire to plan and build for the long-term with the aspirations of commercial investors to get their money back on any significant project in five to six years? How can quality provide an informing principle for design when architects are routinely expected to devise site plans for hundreds of thousands of square metres in a matter of weeks? What happens when the realities of construction and material prices meet the immovable force of development valuation?
Needless to say, the answer to these questions is, alas, that quality is sacrificed. Diagrams are built rather than developed. Appropriateness is dismissed as the aesthete's niggle. Context is financial rather than physical. Thus it is that extraordinarily average products continue to mutate in the most apparently prosperous of the UAE states (short though it is of oil reserves). While Zaha Hadid designs the Dubai Opera House and Rem Koolhaas contemplates another extraordinary urban intervention, dumb architecture dominates the scene. One feels entitled to criticise Dubai as 'Las Vegas without the gambling' despite it being so popular, not just with tourists but with its expat population.
Koolhaas thinks that in criticising Dubai, Western commentators are merely looking in a mirror of their own creation, condemning the inevitable consequences of the conditions we have created in Europe and America for a concentrated flowering in the Gulf. Hence OMA's brilliant polemic at the Venice Biennale (record numbers of visitors, by the way). However, one can acknowledge the point without embracing the argument whole-heartedly. What is disappointing about so much architecture in the Gulf and Middle East is that it could be so much better: there is no shortage of money, apparently no shortage of demand, and political systems that could impose quality standards in a way which would be difficult in democracies. It would be quite possible to have well considered masterplans shaping decisions about land release and future development, rather than the haphazard thrusts into the desert and along the coast now taking place; Dubai needs proper policies about infrastructure, water, energy and balanced communities. The market will not provide this without direction. There may still be time.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
|Next Article:||Imagining Argentina.|