77GX+X4 - Deira - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
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.
77CR+X4C - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
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.
Salman Saraf Building, Ground Floor, Ali Bin Abi Taleb Street - 777W+6XV - Near Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque, Bur Dubai - Al Fahidi - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
On your left is the unmissable Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest standing building in the city. We’ll make a full loop around it and head back to Al Fahidi Street while I tell you all about it. Though Al Fahidi Fort is now home to the Dubai Museum (more on that in a bit), the building has been used for several purposes throughout the ages. The original tower was built in 1787. In those days, the city of Dubai was a lot smaller than it is now. In fact, the drive down Al Fahidi street that brought you here spanned the entire length of Old Dubai; the western wall of the city is only one block west of here. Because the old city was built up against the relative security of the shoreline, only the south and west sides were vulnerable to land-based raiding parties, and the fort was strategically located to provide defense against those attacks. As the oldest surviving building in the city, it gives us a fascinating look at the change in architecture that led to modern Dubai. Before the late 18th century, the area had relied primarily on palm fronds and mud bricks to build shelters – resources in abundance along the arid coastline. This is not necessarily to say that these dwellings were primitive; mud brick, also called adobe, can be seen in use on many of the older structures in the Al Fahidi district, including the houses of Sheikhs and Rulers, and is still used today in the facades of houses built in the traditional style. It was, however, the introduction of a new material that led to a more permanent architectural style in the Emirate. Coral rock, harvested from the sea, could be dredged up en masse and employed to create stronger walls. Coral, of course, isn’t technically a rock – it’s a hardened skeleton made by living reefs, composed primarily of calcium carbonate, a substance also found in bones! Besides making sturdy bricks, coral harvesting led to the widespread use of lime mortar, which binds bricks together far stronger than clay or gypsum alone. When ground coral lime was added to the mix, the ability to build taller structures under heavier loads was finally introduced to this ancient city. The Dubai Museum, now housed inside the fort, goes into greater detail on the architectural history of the city. In fact, the central courtyard features an arish, a traditional dwelling built entirely out of palm fronds, with sleeping areas, a kitchen, and its own barjeel wind tower! The museum also features a dhow, one of Dubai’s traditional cargo ships, a replica of the Al Qusais archeological site with artifacts from as far back as 3000 BCE, and an exhibit on the Jumeirah district during the Umayyad Caliphate. Carrying on, we’ll get a great glimpse of daily life in the older section of Dubai before rocketing into the future as we head further south.
94 16th St - Al Karama - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Looming large before you is the first of Dubai’s megastructures that we’ll see today. The Dubai Frame, which opened in 2018, stands at 150 meters, or 493 feet, an impressive focal point of Zabeel Park. Its design, by Mexican-born architect Fernando Donis, was selected out of 926 proposals for the ThyssenKrupp International Award, which challenged the architectural community to build a new emblem for the city of Dubai. The Frame certainly lives up to that goal. Donis expertly saw the opportunity to make his project’s theme match the location – Zabeel Park is poised just between the old city and the new. Viewed from the south, the building frames a portrait of the emirate’s past, celebrating the city’s cultural roots in Bur Dubai and Deira. When viewed from the north side, as you see it today, it’s a window into Dubai’s future, with the ever-changing skyline of downtown providing the backdrop to the Burj Khalifa, positioned perfectly in the center of the Frame. The top edge of the frame is a glass-bottomed observation deck, where brave sightseers can find panoramic views of both sides of the city while seemingly floating over the park almost 500 feet below. Zabeel Park is no feat to laugh at either. Like most of the green spaces in this desert environment, it’s the product of extreme landscape architecture. Centered around a large boating lake, this 47-hectare (117-acre) park features a BMX track, skateboard park, and a fitness center, plus a 2.5-kilometer jogging track encircling the perimeter. But the park is more than just a place for exercise – it’s a venue for social interaction, with wide, rolling green spaces dotted with shady palm trees. Zabeel Park’s design was led by London-based firm Cracknell, whose work can be seen across Dubai in places like Internet City and the Palm Jumeirah, which we’ll see a little later on. Themes of technology and futurism can be seen throughout the park in spaces like the Barcode Gardens, Space Maze, and Moonscape play area. The park is divided into three themed sections, each linked by a pedestrian suspension bridge. The sections are called the Alternative Energy Zone, the Communications Zone, and the Techno Zone, and feature interactive educational exhibits as well as an exhibition center and 3D theater for “edutainment” films. As you turn left to skirt around the northeast corner of the park, you’ll soon find yourself passing the Al Jafiliya Metro Station, which provides easy access to Zabeel Park from around the city. We’ll talk more about the metro a little later on, as we make our way down Sheikh Zayed Road. For now, we’ll head to the Trade Center Roundabout, where Dubai’s first skyscraper gives us our first look at the early development of the modern city.
5th floor, Th H Hotel, office tower Sheikh Zayed Road - المركز التجاري - المركز التجاري الأولي - دبي - United Arab Emirates
Although it may not seem impressive in contrast with Dubai’s newer buildings, the white tower directly ahead, with its octagonal observation deck and spire, is an icon of Dubai’s modern development. As you pass the tower, exit the circle and keep right to travel along the edge of Dubai’s World Trade Centre complex. The World Trade Centre was inaugurated in February of 1979 by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Its first structure, named Sheikh Rashid Tower after the then Ruler of Dubai, was a whopping 39 stories tall, the tallest building in the UAE at the time. The building was designed by English architect John Harris, a close advisor to Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who served as Ruler from his father’s death in 1958 to his own in 1990. Even before the completion of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Sheikh knew Dubai’s future would be in international trade, and when he set to work creating his own financial hub in the UAE, he knew exactly who should design it. John R. Harris first came to Dubai in the summer of 1959, having already completed a few projects in the Gulf region. After receiving aerial photos of the city, Harris quickly came up with the first master plan to bring the area around Dubai Creek onto the international stage. Modeled after English urbanization, the area was divided into neighborhood units, with residential areas grouped around central commercial districts, with amenities like shops, schools, and parks. A decade later, in 1971, it had become apparent that Dubai’s newfound oil wealth had put the city on a fast track to quickly outgrow the banks of the Creek. Harris’ second master plan detailed the expansion south of the creek along Sheikh Zayed Road. What was once a stretch of empty road would soon serve as the major artery of the new Dubai. With the groundwork laid, it was only a matter of time before new construction projects would dot the open landscape. In 1974, with the construction of World Trade Centers underway in Tokyo and New York, Dubai was ready for an international hub of its own. The original design submitted by Harris was something more akin to the complex you see today, albeit on a smaller scale. A convention center with exhibition halls would be Dubai’s largest construction undertaking to date. The Sheikh, however, rejected the plans; if the rest of the world was building towers, Dubai would have a tower of its own, proof that the Emirates had an equal seat at the table of international trade. With an updated vision for the new complex, work began in earnest in 1975. The tower’s design combines mid-century modernism with a hint of traditional Islamic style; note the distinct pointed arches surrounding each window. Besides their aesthetic purpose, these concrete arches act to shield the windows from direct sunlight, a necessary feature as it stood alone in the desert for over a decade before taller buildings cropped up around it. Nowadays, the World Trade Centre Complex has expanded to include a massive convention center, residential towers, and the Trade Centre Arena, a huge multi-purpose event venue. In recent history, the space was used as a massive hospital to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, and in 2021 announced it would organize as a global hub for cryptocurrency trade in partnership with Binance. In addition, the tower houses the foreign consulates of Italy, Switzerland, Japan, and Turkey. Next, we’ll head into the future! Make the loop around the Emirates Towers to see a new museum that’s truly ahead of its time.
Emirates Tower Hotel Bldg - المركز التجاري - المركز التجاري الثانية - دبي - United Arab Emirates
The Museum of the Future, on your left, is one of the most fascinating designs we’ll see today. Fashioned in a geometric shape called a torus, the museum looks forward at the next five years, showcasing trends in technology and speculating on what comes next in the areas of healthcare, city design, aviation, space travel, and more. Designed by architect Shaun Killa of Dubai-based group Killa Design, The structure of the building has symbolic meaning. Much of the museum is housed underneath a green mound, symbolizing the Earth, the foundation of all human achievement. The main ring of the building represents mankind’s accomplishments, what we’ve already built. The void in the center represents that which we don’t yet know, the hidden secrets of the future. The museum was commissioned by the Dubai Future Foundation, which organizes funding for advancements in the science and technology sectors with the goal of placing Dubai at the forefront of global innovation. Their offices, also designed by Killa, are located just on the other side of the Emirates Towers, off the traffic circle – you passed them on your way here. The office complex is the first building to be completely fabricated with 3D printing technology. But back to the museum; the building officially opened on February 22nd, 2022, a palindromic date. The idea for the museum was first conceived in 2015, and in the years that followed several exhibitions were held, mainly showcasing advancements in artificial intelligence. After the successes of their exhibitions, this permanent home for the museum was constructed. The Arabic script that adorns the outside of the building offers three quotes from Dubai’s current Ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. They read: “We won't live for hundreds of years, but we can create something that will last for hundreds of years.”, “The future will be for those who will be able to imagine, design and build it, the future does not wait, the future can be designed and built today.”, and “The secret of the renewal of life, the development of civilization and the progress of humanity is in one word: innovation.” These words represent the goals of the emirate as it becomes increasingly centered in the global spotlight. By now, we’re making our way around the Emirates Towers and back to Al Mustaqbal Street. The towers were completed in 2000 as a collaboration between the Korean company Ssangyong and Belgian designers BESIX. The Middle Eastern arm of BESIX, known as Six Construct, has been operating in the region since 1965 – they’re the ones responsible for the Infinity Bridge, among others. Ssangyong Engineering and Construction is best known for the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore; their work can also be seen across the city. Designed by Hong Kong native Hazel Wong, the Emirates Towers are the first joint Korean-European construction project ever completed. The shorter of the two houses the Jumeirah Emirates Hotel, while the taller spire is simply called the Emirates Office Tower. Despite the noticeable difference in height, the Office Tower is only two stories higher than the Hotel due to the higher ceilings on each floor. Heading South on Al Mustaqbal will give us a great view of the skyline of the Dubai International Financial Centre and a row of supertall structures that will come up on your right side.
46 شارع - ٣١٢ - Za'abeel - Za'abeel 2 - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Running alongside Sheikh Zayed Road, the Dubai International Financial Centre, or DIFC for short, is a microcosm of the city’s architecture. Both innovative in design and inspired by other iconic buildings, the designs market Dubai as an international city where everything is larger than life. The first set of towers can be clearly seen at the upcoming intersection on your right side. From north to south, or from right to left, you can spot the UP Tower, the Al Yaqoub Tower, the Capricorn Tower, and the Maze Tower. The first building in the line, the UP Tower, is also the oldest of the four; for this reason, it was (and still is) referred to simply as “the Tower” by residents. Designed by Lebanese architecture firm Khatib and Alami, the design bears some resemblance to Nine Penn Center in the American city of Philadelphia. Though this tower is more slender, the two buildings have 54 stories apiece, as well as upper tiers that flare outward beneath the pyramid-shaped cap. Unlike its American counterpart, the UP Tower is a residential building, featuring luxury apartments with views of the Trade Centre Complex and Dubai Frame. Next door is the Al Yaqoub Tower, which also bears resemblance to a famous foreign building. London’s Elizabeth Tower, which houses the iconic clock “Big Ben”, serves as inspiration for this 72-story superstructure. Designed by Dubai-based Adnan Saffarini, the project’s construction ran into quite a few complications. Though it began in 2006, an economic downturn and changing plans for the building’s eventual use stalled the completion of the project until 2013. In fact, the building was reportedly going to have its own massive clock face; protests from London and concerns over distracted drivers on Sheikh Zayed road led that plan to be scrapped entirely. The next two buildings, the residential Capricorn Tower and mixed-use Maze Tower stand at 46 and 57 floors, respectively. The various twists and turns of the Maze Tower’s facade actually serve as the building’s balconies and are lit at night with color-changing LED lights. While your view of the skyscrapers is largely obstructed by the bulk of the DIFC, with its sprawling campus of mid-rise buildings, soon you’ll pass the large black structure of the Al Fattan Currency House, giving you a great view of the next set of towers. Most notably on this strip of skyline is the Gevora: the world’s tallest hotel. Standing at a whopping 356 meters, or 1,168 feet, the 75-floor tower has 528 rooms and suites available to guests. Another lengthy project, the bulk of the construction was completed between 2006 and 2008, but the building was finished almost a decade later. Opening its doors in early 2018, the Gevora beats out the previous record holder, the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, by a single meter. Although it’s the tallest building that’s entirely a hotel and features the highest swimming pool in the world, it can’t boast the highest hotel room in existence. That honor goes to the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, which takes up the top six floors of that city’s 108-story International Commerce Centre. The other standout design in this row of towers is the Rose Rayhaan Hotel, its four glass lobes curving gracefully to a floral crown. Another Khatib and Alami design, the 333-meter Rose tower surpassed the Burj Al Arab as the tallest hotel in the world upon its completion in 2007. As you can tell Dubai hotels are constantly outdoing one another – seven of the top ten tallest hotels are here in the city, four of which debuted as the tallest hotel in the world. Well, we’ve waited long enough, and I’m sure you can already tell what’s looming on the horizon. Continue straight on this road to the base of Dubai’s crown jewel – the Burj Khalifa.
5 Sh Mohammed Bin Rashid Blvd - Downtown Dubai - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
You don’t have to be an architecture enthusiast to recognize the tallest building ever constructed. The shining symbol of everything Dubai has become in the last fifty years, Burj Khalifa reaches into the heavens, half a mile above the surface of the earth. In fact, the megastructure is so tall that sunset occurs a full two minutes later when viewed from the observation deck than it does when viewed from sea level. The building is the brainchild of Adrian Smith, responsible for several of the tallest buildings on the planet, both as a partner with Chicago firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and more recently at his own firm, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill made history with the design of Chicago’s Sears Tower, now called Willis Tower, which was the tallest building in the world for over 20 years following its completion in 1973. The same technology pioneered on that building has been the foundation for their other supertall structures. By designing the frame of the building as a “bundled tube”, the total volume of steel required for optimum rigidity is greatly reduced. You can see the influence of the Sears Tower’s tiered structure in many of Smith’s designs, including the Trump International in Chicago, the Central Park Tower in New York, and right here on the Burj Khalifa. Having left SOM to start his own firm in 2006, Adrian Smith seeks to outdo even himself; he’s the designer of the yet-unfinished Jeddah Tower, a project in Saudi Arabia that, once completed, will take the title of world’s tallest from the Burj Khalifa. But enough about other buildings in other countries – let’s talk about the tower before you! Like many of the buildings in Dubai, it seeks to integrate traditional aesthetics into a futuristic design. The sloping shape of the various tiers is inspired by the spiral minarets of 9th-century mosques. The most notable of these is the one at the Great Mosque of Samarra, built during the Abbasid Caliphate. During this era, known today as the Golden Age of Islam, the Arabian peninsula was a global center of science, mathematics, and culture – perfect inspiration for this forward-thinking city. The Y-shaped footprint of the building serves a dual purpose. It maximizes interior space by extending laterally on the lower floors, but it also provides a three-dimensional buttress to the tower’s central core, increasing its stability while distributing the weight of the spire across a wider area. The building was originally set to be named “Burj Dubai”, but was renamed after a financial gift from Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE, saved the developers from financial collapse. The area that surrounds the tower is a feat of architecture on its own. The artificial lake at its base is home to the Dubai Fountain, a choreographed water feature that spans the length of two football pitches laid end to end. Several smaller towers have cropped up in the shadow of the Burj, with hotels, shopping, and restaurants transforming the area into a bustling downtown. And of course, nestled at the foot of the monolithic giant stands a megastructure in its own right. Keep following this road as it curves around the Burj District and leads you to the immense Dubai Mall. Along the way, keep an eye out for the Dubai Opera, unmissable for its unique shape. The building is designed to resemble a dhow, one of Dubai’s traditional cargo boats. Inside, the 2,000-seat theater is equipped with hydraulic lifts, allowing it to be rearranged to serve as a banquet hall, exhibition space, or concert venue.
57RG+8J9 - Downtown Dubai - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Ahead on your right looms Address Downtown, a 63-story hotel that topped out as the sixth-tallest building in the city when it was completed in 2008. As of 2022, it’s dropped down to rank 22 on that list, giving you a good idea of just how quickly some of Dubai’s tallest structures have cropped up in the last decade. Just beyond the tower, we’ll make a right turn, but keep your eyes on your left side to see the peaks and valleys of the many sections of the sprawling Dubai Mall. It’s now the second-largest shopping mall in the world, having lost the top spot to the Iran Mall in Tehran after its opening in 2018. As you approach the mall, take a right on Dubai Fountain Road, followed by another right on Burj Khalifa Boulevard. At over 500,000 square meters or over five million square feet, the mall contains more than just stores. The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo displays over 140 species of fish, sharks, and rays, all of which can be seen from an underwater tunnel that cuts through their 10 million liter tank. If you think walking among the sharks counts as “up close and personal”, think again. For an additional fee, you can actually schedule a dive into the tank to swim among these majestic creatures. If you’re not quite up to a dive, but still want to take the plunge, a snorkel-equipped cage allows you to see the animals from a safe enclosure. Another of the mall’s star attractions is the VR park, with over 30 rides and attractions that incorporate augmented reality or fully virtual environments. From horror and fantasy simulations to virtual extreme sports you can plug into an endless world of possibilities! The Dubai Mall was designed by Singaporean firm DP Architects. The project adhered to five core principles of design: “clear pedestrian circulation with no secondary corridors or hidden corners, visual connectivity to all shopfronts, sufficient parking space and integrated public transportation, efficient service areas for each tenant, and subdivision of the mall into zones with distinct characters.” This last tenet can be seen in the varying themes of the mall's main atria. For example, one set of shops clusters around a large indoor ice rink, while another is centered around a 24-meter long Diplodocus fossil known colloquially as the “Dubai Dino”. The 155 million-year-old long-necked dinosaur stands over 7 meters tall and is a rare example of a complete skeleton, preserved in the sedimentary Morrison Formation in Wyoming, USA. Our route now takes us through Downtown Dubai, where the city’s larger-than-life aesthetic can be seen on nearly every block.
East Height Towers Entrance G - Business Bay - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
The glass megalith on your left is called the Opus. Designed to resemble a massive cube that has “eroded” in the center, the Opus is really two distinct towers expertly joined by a four-story atrium at ground level and a three-story bridge suspended over 70 meters in the air. The Opus was first conceived in 2007 by Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid. Dubbed “the Queen of the Curve” by the Guardian, Hadid was widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost female architects. Her signature graceful curves and sharp abstract shapes were largely inspired by the Russian avant-garde art movement called “suprematism”, and her body of work led her to become the first woman ever awarded the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize. Tragically, Zaha Hadid never got to see some of her most ambitious projects completed. The Opus is one of many projects completed after her untimely passing in March of 2016. Examples of Hadid’s work in Dubai include the ship-inspired Dubai Opera and the Dubai Scorpion Tower, a twin construction of the One Thousand Museum building in Miami, USA. As we wind our way back to Al Mustaqbal Street, we’ll turn right at the first intersection, followed by an immediate left. Once on Al Mustaqbal, we’ll pass the earlier-mentioned JW Marriott Marquis before crossing the bridge over the Dubai Canal. The Marriott, as you’ll recall, once held the title of “world’s tallest hotel” before being supplanted by the Gevora. With two distinct towers, this 82-story giant boasts a whopping 1,608 rooms. It was designed by Ashok Korangakar, the Indian-born founder of Archgroup International Consultants. Like many buildings in the city, its design takes inspiration from Dubai’s history. The postmodern buildings resemble the trunk of the date palm tree; long before Dubai was known for its pearl industry, the land was cultivated for date palm farming. The area served as a critical resupply point on the long journey from the Mesopotamian region to what is now Oman, with the oldest known caravan station established in the Jumeriah neighborhood in the 5th Century CE. Speaking of Jumeirah, we’re heading that way now. It’s located about 12 Kilometers down Dubai’s main throughway, Sheikh Zayed Road.
Sheikh Zayed Rd - Matloob Building B, Office 133, Al Safa 1 - الصفا - الصفا 1 - دبي - United Arab Emirates
The road you’re on now is the E11, the UAE’s main motorway that runs from the Saudi border in Abu Dhabi up the coast of the Arabian Gulf to the Omani border in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Though it passes through six of the seven emirates, the highway is best known as the Sheikh Zayed Road, the central artery that connects downtown Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Zayed Road is the busiest in Dubai and has grown since its inception in 1971 to the massive twelve-lane highway you see today. It is named for his Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi. Unlike some numbered highways in other countries, where the road bears the same name across state, province, or county lines, the E11 has different names along its route, honoring the many Rulers and Sheikhs that built the nation into what it is today. Within Dubai, the road bears three separate names. As you head north to Sharjah, the E11 becomes Sheikh Rashid road as it crosses Dubai Creek in the old city and Al Ittihad Road from the airport to the Sharjah border. Up until 1971, crossing the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi was no easy feat. Land Rovers and pickup trucks had to carefully consider their supply of petrol and drinking water before setting out on the dirt tracks. Navigation was critical; taking the wrong fork may lead you into the “empty quarter”, the vast stretch of desert south of Abu Dhabi. Following the declaration of independence in 1971, the newly united emirates sought to improve infrastructure, and a single-lane carriageway was built. Construction was slow going, but the two cities were finally connected by road in 1980. Since then the road has grown into the mega-highway you see today. With Dubai’s aspirations as a global tech center, the road has also been a testing ground for new innovations in traffic control, such as the “Salik” automatic toll system, which collects road fares seamlessly, and real-time parking indicators on the frontage roads. With Downtown Dubai in the rearview mirror, Sheikh Zayed Road travels through a number of residential communities and shopping districts before arriving at the high-rises of the Dubai Marina. Running alongside the highway are the elevated tracks of the Dubai Metro’s Red Line. The need for this avenue of public transportation arose from increased traffic congestion and a rapidly growing population. Since it first began service in 2009, the rail system has helped to relieve motor traffic and provide infrastructure for additional development. There are 2 lines; the elevated Red Line runs along the E11 from the Airport in the north to Jebel Ali in the south, while the Green Line makes a loop through Deira and the communities along Dubai Creek, with both elevated and underground stations. Dubai’s metro trains are entirely automated and driverless. Passengers can choose from a variety of carriages to suit their comfort, such as women-only carriages, family carriages, and VIP carriages called “Gold Class.” The interiors of the stations are uniquely designed to reflect their area’s history, with themes incorporating the four classical elements: water, earth, fire, and air. Like much of the city, the Dubai metro isn’t afraid to put on a show. In 2013, the transit system hosted a fashion show – The Express Fashion catwalk – that all passengers on board got to enjoy. This live show showcased both day and evening wear from the exclusive Spring and Summer collections of Bloomingdales. While you may catch amateur performers on the London Underground or New York Subway, few municipal transit departments can claim to strut their stuff quite like Dubai. In a second, we’ll take the exit for Al Thanya Street, but keep an eye on the left for one of the two major shopping destinations along this stretch of the SZR. The Times Square Center features a massive atrium filled with palm trees, and the stores focus on electronics, games, toys, and leisure. The other major mall along the highway is the Mall of the Emirates, the massive shopping complex most famous for its indoor ski slope. Ski Dubai is an architectural achievement in its own right; the 85-meter indoor mountain is kept at a constant temperature of zero Celsius, even on the hottest days of the year. It features five ski slopes of varying difficulty, an ice cave, and live penguins that are let out of their enclosures to interact with guests. Al Thanya Street will take us northeast to Jumeirah, the popular beach area known for its restaurants and resorts.
832 Jumeirah Beach Rd - Umm Suqeim - Umm Suqeim 3 - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
From here, you can see the sail-like structure of the Burj Al Arab rising from the ocean ahead on your right. Before we talk about that famed hotel, I’d like to draw your attention to the equally massive Jumeirah Beach Hotel just up the coast. The two hotels were designed in conversation with one another by Tom Wright of UK-based firm WS Atkins. While the Burj Al Arab famously resembles a boat’s sail, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel is the wave that bears it. Both hotels were commissioned by the Jumeirah Hotel Group, owned by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Though it’s the shorter of the two hotels, Jumeirah Beach is no small feat. It contains 598 rooms and suites, 19 beachfront villas, and 20 restaurants and bars, as well as the Wild Wadi Water Park. Opened in 1997, two years before the Burj Al Arab, it debuted as the ninth-tallest building in the city; nowadays it doesn’t even make the top 100. A second wave-shaped hotel, designed by Museum of the Future architect Shaun Killa, is set to open just up the beach in 2023. At the time of this tour’s creation, construction of the Marsa Al Arab is on schedule, with the 408-room structure sitting atop a newly introduced artificial peninsula. Also operated by the Jumeirah Group, this new building will complete the company’s “Oceanic Trilogy”. As we head past the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, its associated shopping mall across the street, and the Water Park, you’ll finally see the road that leads to the private island occupied by the Burj Al Arab. Long before the Burj Khalifa was constructed, this 56-floor luxury resort was the icon of Dubai architecture. Its sail-shaped design can be seen mirrored in buildings all over the city. The hotel is a marvel of engineering from the ground up; to create the artificial island on which it rests, 230 40-meter-long concrete piles were driven into the seabed. The first three years of the project were spent reclaiming the land from the sea. A concrete honeycomb structure secures the loads of rock that make up the bulk of the land, holding them in place and protecting them from erosion. Once the island was complete, the building was erected relatively quickly, opening its doors to the public on December 1, 1999. In addition to its luxurious hotel features – its double-story suites, its stunning infinity pool, its restaurant, Al Muntaha, cantilevered 600 feet above the gulf – it’s crowned with a famous helicopter pad. Designed by Irish architect Rebecca Gernon, the rooftop has been used as a boxing ring, a tennis court, and even a stunt track for Formula One-style cars. While underway, the project was referred to as the “Chicago Beach Hotel”. Even though we’re a long way from Lake Michigan, the Jumeirah area was known by that name for much of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1960s, this part of Dubai was the principal residence of American and European expatriates. The name, however, is actually derived from the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company, which constructed floating oil storage tankers along this stretch of coast. Let’s continue on our way down this coastal road, named for King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, to pass the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a sprawling shopping center constructed in the style of a traditional Arabian Bazaar. The various shops, restaurants, and hotels are built on the banks of artificial canals, crisscrossed by stunning pedestrian bridges and walkways. Past the Bazaar, the area on the right side becomes largely hidden behind a palm orchard and low concrete wall. This part of the coast is occupied by the palace complex that includes the Jumeirah home of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.
12 King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud St - Al Sufouh - Dubai Knowledge Park - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
The oasis of low-rise buildings that occupies the area to your left is Dubai Internet City, an economic free zone that hosts the Middle Eastern Headquarters of some of the biggest companies on the digital stage. Meta, Google, Huawei, and Samsung all maintain regional offices in this part of town, which was founded in 1999. With over one and a half million square feet of office space, over 1,400 companies operate here. Although the tallest buildings are behind us, the southern end of Dubai is growing upward. Looking over the rooftops of Internet City, you’ll see the conical crowns of the 51-story Business Central Towers. The twin skyscrapers are inspired by New York’s Chrysler Building. Directly ahead, Dubai’s newest high-rise neighborhood looms large. Like much of the city’s development, the Dubai Marina area was built entirely from scratch on a formerly empty tract of land. Even the marina itself is manmade, an artificial canal running three kilometers through the area. The area’s towers are mostly residential, but the ground level is rife with retail and nightlife. The Walk, a 1.7-kilometer outdoor mall, is the chief tourist attraction of the Marina, with street performers and artists displaying their talents on a daily basis. Perhaps the most architecturally interesting tower in Dubai Marina is the Cayan Tower. Once visible from this north end of the area, it’s now obscured from view by newer buildings. Cayan Tower, designed by Skidmore, Owens, and Merrill, twists a full 90 degrees along its 306-meter, 1,005-foot rise, with each of its 73 floors offset from the one below it by 1.2 degrees. The design is made possible by SOM’s signature “bundled tube” design, with the central core structure containing its elevators and mechanics. When Cayan Tower opened in 2013, it surpassed Sweden's Twisting Torso as the tallest building with a 90-degree twist; two years later that record would be lost to Shanghai Tower, which stands more than twice as tall. Instead of heading straight and seeing the marina, our route will take the exit for one of Dubai’s most ambitious projects: the Palm Jumeirah.
4532+VC6 - The Palm Jumeirah - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
As you cross over the bridge onto the Palm Jumeirah, you’re greeted by the splendid square arch of FIVE Palm Jumeirah, a luxury resort designed by P&T Architects and Engineers. Self-described as “Dubai’s hottest hotel”, FIVE opened in March of 2017. The 470 rooms and suites provide stunning views of the gulf and the skyline of Dubai Marina. But guests don’t just come to FIVE to relax. The hotel is known for its nightlife, including daily concerts by its central “social pool” and in its two nightclubs, “Bling” and “The Penthouse”. The party doesn’t stop when the sun comes up, either. FIVE’s Maiden Shanghai restaurant hosts “Naughty Noodles Brunch” every Saturday, and social events are held by the pool and on the beach at all hours. In stark contrast to FIVE, our last stop is billed primarily as a family-friendly resort. Let’s continue our way along Palm Jumeirah toward Atlantis, which stands like a colossus at the end of this man-made marvel. Along the way, I’ll tell you a little bit about the Palm itself – this massive artificial island can be seen from space, expertly crafted in the shape of the all-important date palm encircled by barrier islands called the Crescent. Palm Jumeirah is the first and most-developed of a series of artificial archipelagos called the Palm Islands. Along with the larger Palm Jebel Ali and the yet-undeveloped Deira Islands, these man-made landscapes were first envisioned by Sheikh Mohammed, and construction began in 2001. In accordance with the Ruler’s vision, the islands are made entirely of sand and rock, without any support from concrete or steel infrastructure. To this end, the emirate contracted two major Dutch dredging Companies, Van Oord and Boskalis, to undertake the project. Although it had taken three years to complete the much smaller island under the Burj Al Arab, the Palm Jumeirah was mostly finished by 2003, a huge feat for construction of this scale. With this island complete, work began on the other two projects at Deira and Jebel Ali, but was stalled by the 2008 global financial crisis. At the time of this tour’s creation, work has not yet resumed, but plans for development are underway. In addition to the Palm Islands, the emirate has built another major archipelago. The World Islands were completed in 2008, and when viewed from space form an impressive map of the planet. Over 300 islands make up the design, each named for a nation or state. Continuing up the palm, you’ll notice that the residential homes along its fronds take inspiration from Dubai’s traditional architecture; the adobe facades and barjeel wind towers recall the homes and palaces of the Al Fahidi district along Dubai Creek. It’s amazing to see just how far Dubai has come in the last 50 years, and just as amazing to see how they’ve maintained their distinct cultural identity throughout. The Middle East’s first Monorail line runs the length of the Palm, allowing rapid transportation from the Palm Gateway towers to Atlantis at the island’s far end. With that in mind, keep your eyes straight ahead to see the final building on this tour of Dubai’s architecture.
448P+9FP - The Palm Jumeirah - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
A collaboration between hotel giant Kerzner International Holdings Limited and Emirati company Istithmar World, The architectural conception of Atlantis The Palm is easy to trace. The building combines the style and footprint of Kerzner’s famous resort in the Bahamas with a central void inspired by Islamic architecture. In addition to over 1,500 luxury rooms and suites, Atlantis features a few unique accommodations. Notably, the top of the archway between the two towers is home to the massive “Royal Bridge Suite”. Inspired by the palaces of sheikhs and kings, the suite features a 16-person dining room, a private library, a game room, and two-story ceilings. The Poseidon and Neptune Suites join the small number of underwater hotel rooms, with windows looking out on the Arabian Gulf’s reef ecosystem. The first resort project on the Palm, Atlantis opened its doors in 2008 after a relatively short two-year construction period. It was designed by resort specialists Wimberly, Allison, Tong, and Goo. Well, friends, this is where I’ll leave you today. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey from Dubai’s past into its ever-changing future. From its quiet beginnings as a Bronze Age date palm farm to the modern marvel you’ve seen today, Dubai is a testament to human ingenuity and innovation. As Sheik Mohammed said, “the future does not wait, the future can be designed and built today.” The funny thing about the future is that it becomes the past the moment it’s achieved. And while the fantastic things we’ve seen today were once Dubai’s future, who knows what further heights the city will achieve in the decades to come? I, for one, am excited to find out. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here in the City of Gold.