Dubai:  Emerging from the desert in less than 50 years, Dubai is a constantly evolving city with extraordinary architecture. Made Journal looks at how the city’s skyline has developed and how the urban landscape in Dubai is changing.

“Most major cities are readily identified by their skyline, and Dubai is no different,” says Dubai-based architect, Richard Fenne as he discusses the urban landscape of our fast-paced city.

Fenne is a Project Director/Senior Associate for international architectural firm, Woods Bagot, which has played a key role in some of the UAE’s most important urban projects, such as Dubai’s Jumeriah Emirates Towers Hotel, the extension to Madinat Jumeirah Hotel, the sprawling City Walk by Meraas and as master planners of the expansive, city-defining Dubai Design District (d3).

There’s also a brevity to the design of the two towers that you don’t often see here.

It was working on the iconic Emirates Towers with an international contractor that introduced the firm to Dubai and Fenne believes the modernist project has left an indelible mark on the city.

“Jumeirah Emirates Towers was the ninth tallest building in the world when it was built. Now, almost 15 years later, it is still a seminal piece of architecture. I think partly because there’s a simplicity in the form of the buildings; it’s aged very well and it’s quite classical. There’s also a brevity to the design of the two towers that you don’t often see here,” he says.

TheManInBlueRichard Fenne, architect, Woods Bagot. Photography by Lyndon Douglas Photography.

In that comment, the architect encapsulates the skyline of the Dubai. Like many global cities, its architecture of the past 10-15 years has been characterised by a diversity of skyscrapers informed by varied streams of contemporary architecture, with many iconic, supersized, glittering and glamorous.

“Dubai is incredibly mixed. What’s also very interesting about the city’s skyline is that’s there’s a sense of immediacy about it. One year here feels like five anywhere else because everything happens so fast; you have a sense that you can make a real contribution to the city.”

In terms of architectural design, he believes no one, defined style dominates Dubai’s skyline. Instead – and perhaps incongruous to living and working in the heat of the desert – a predominance of heavily glazed buildings, in all forms, occupy the landscape. However, for Fenne, who has helped design significant culturally-led projects in the UAE, the city’s real beauty lies in the Emirate’s vernacular design and its vision for the future.

Vernacular Architecture – Informing the Future

The preservation of Dubai’s heritage is already underway, Fenne gladly says, citing the restoration of the Bastikia area, which with its wind towers and the old Fahidi Fort is a wonderful example of Dubai’s heritage architecture.

“Previously, there was a desire to import western architecture into the region but now there is also greater respect shown to heritage architecture and this shows a high level of sophistication,” he says.

I think heritage should definitely play a greater role in architecture in the region. Even in terms of simple passive design.

Increasing numbers of the city’s major projects are now drawing inspiration from the UAE’s vernacular architecture. For Fenne, this movement is good news: “I think heritage should definitely play a greater role in architecture in the region. Even in terms of simple passive design, such as the use of thick walls and smaller openings, it’s about working with your environment. As corporate social responsibility becomes increasingly important here, then the need for flexibility and longevity in our buildings will only increase.”

Ocean View Hotel DubaiAlternative Dubai views, the Woods Bagot redesigned Ocean View Hotel at JBR.

A Dubai of the Future

Longevity and working with the environment are design principles that are now at the forefront of the many of the masterplans citywide, Fenne says. Rather than one-off iconic structures, these masterplans, with thoughtfully planned urban spaces, aim to create communities where people can work and live harmoniously.

City Walk, d3 and the Dubai Canal are all examples of projects where the integration of the built landscape with open public space is delivering a joined-up approach, where lifestyle plays a central role in development.

Interestingly, according to Fenne, the Dubai of the future will be less about building up (although he acknowledges that there will always be some of this) but instead, in addition to focusing on an improved integration of the public realm with the city’s commercial and residential buildings, Dubai is clearly on the march southward.

“How will Dubai’s skyline evolve in the future?

“It’s moving south towards Abu Dhabi. It depends how far into the future you look but with new developments and investment in transport infrastructure it’s certainly not inconceivable to think that Dubai and Abu Dhabi will become much closer neighbours.”

Feature photograph and photograph at top, Dubai Design District.

woodsbagot.comAl-Bastakiya_Tinari-21-webPhotograph by Sandra Tinari.