Our Journey through Dubai’s unique and fascinating architectural history begins in the old city, where some of the earliest-constructed buildings line the banks of Dubai Creek. To get to the Al Fahidi District, however, we must first cross over one of the city’s most recent public projects – the Infinity Bridge. Completed in 2022, the 12-lane bridge replaced the Al Shindagha tunnel, which had connected Deira and Bur Dubai for almost fifty years. During that time, the city changed drastically, and congestion crossing the Creek was becoming a problem. The Infinity Bridge was designed by Belgian construction group BESIX, its 42-meter tall steel suspension arches resembling the mathematical symbol for infinity. The construction of the main deck was completed in a mere eight months, but the Al Shindagha corridor is far from finished. The bridge is just one small part of a 1.44 billion US Dollar project taken on by the Roads and Transport Authority, constructing 13 kilometers of transport infrastructure in this district over the course of the 2020s. Although the bridge is just the beginning, it has reportedly already reduced travel times across the Creek by 70 percent, with around 24,000 vehicles able to make the crossing per hour. With an economy based on international trade and tourism, improving the route between downtown Dubai and Dubai International Airport is a top priority for the city. As you cross the bridge, you’ll enter Al Shindagha, where we’ll travel to the past and explore the fascinating history of this ever-changing Emirate.
The tan square towers visible on the left side of the road are called barjeel, and their use in Emirati architecture began in earnest during the 19th century. Though they’re attractive in their own right, adorned with the sort of pointed arches commonly seen in Islamic architecture, these towers serve an essential purpose, keeping the building cool by harnessing the power of the wind. Wind towers have been used across the Arabian world since at least the 14th century BCE; pictorial evidence shows that the residences of Egyptian Pharaohs used similar structures, and Iranian archaeologists have claimed that the same technique was used in ancient Persia as long as 4,000 years ago. The ones you can see from the road belong to the house of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, the longest-serving Ruler of Dubai. The house, built in 1896, is a great example of 19th Century Emirati architecture, built at the height of Dubai’s pearl diving boom. Alhough pearls from the Arabian Gulf had been a chief export of the area for thousands of years, the advent of global trade in the 1800s really put Dubai on the map for much of the western world. Jacques Cartier used UAE pearls exclusively as he built his jewelry empire. In the 1920s, however, Japanese-made artificial pearls flooded the market, causing an economic collapse, and the burgeoning oil industry on the Arabian peninsula solidified Abu Dhabi’s influence as the capital of the region. In addition to the Al Maktoum House, the Al Shindagha area on the left is rife with preserved historic buildings, many of which have been converted into museums. Of particular note is the Heritage Village, a living history museum where craftsmen and women practice traditional trades, including pearl diving. Next, we’ll leave the main road and head into Al Fahidi, the oldest district in the city.