Hani Rashid has asked me to co-teach a design studio on Dubai at Columbia. We’re on the verge of some major projects there and will be using the studio as a laboratory to explore Dubai’s imagined but untapped architectural potential.
The studio brief follows:
Mega Brand Edge City | Dubai
Advanced Studio VI
Hani Rashid and Alexander Pincus
Dubai is a place of extremes, from it’s climate and physical context, to it’s economic and geopolitical strategies to it’s urban infrastructure and architecture. Here limits are constantly being tested and surpassed, producing a city that today is subject to a darwinian trajectory. Dubai is either quickly becoming one of the most extraordinary and evolved cities on the planet, or a travesty of extravagance and excess, the potential result of both misguided vision and ambitious yet flawed enterprise.
Dubai, the Arabian peninsula’s most vibrant city, boasts over 30% of the worlds cranes at work at any one time. With the largest number of cranes in the world in operation 24/7 the city is rapidly building entire new districts while multiple iconic “trophy” projects such as SOM’s “super tall” Burj Dubai are being erected at an astonishing rate. Upon completion in 2008 the Burj tower will become the world’s newest tallest building, projecting 2640 feet into the sky.
“The design of Burj Dubai is derived from the geometries of the desert flower, which is indigenous to the region, and the patterning systems embodied in Islamic architecture. It combines historical and cultural influences with cutting edge technology to achieve a high-performance building which will set the new standard for development in the Middle East and become the model for the future of the city.”
As exemplified in SOM’s press release however the kitsch and cliché have yet to be overcome despite a context which offers unbridled opportunity for experimentation and invention. It is however the very existence of this condition of extreme possibility that is of interest of the studio, one that is to be simultaneously critiqued and exploited.
Not far off the shoreline of Dubai is Palm Island, which at 20 hectares is not only the largest man-made island in the world but with it’s palm like figure is touted to be visible from space with the naked eye. Another prominent condominium saturated island project is euphemistically called ‘The World’. Here each home owner will build a dream house in their preferred geographic locale on one of 6 simulated “continents” constructed in the waters of the Arabian Gulf. Other construction ventures that are ‘unique’ as well as technically challenging include the world’s first underwater hotel and the recently opened Dubai Ski Resort. Rising from the surrounding sea of desert sand the latter not only maintains a controlled indoor temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit but also provides constant snowfall.
Dubai is situated somewhere between Disneyland and Arcosanti on steroids, with ambitious developments in the desert that exploit cutting edge alternative energy and irrigation technologies, unprecedented land reclamation projects in coastal waters and the worlds most progressive desalination plants providing a seemingly unlimited supply of fresh water. The rise of Dubai stands in sharp contrast to its rapidly dwindling oil reserves which ironically “fueled” this city’s light speed entry into the 21C.
Conceptually Dubai sits at many edges and is a city poised to become a dominant center of the 21C, a new Alpha city in the making. Yet Dubai’s trajectory of growth is predicated neither on traditional models of colonization nor upon the conquering of a new frontier. Rather Dubai itself is the physical manifestation of a new frontier. As a city where marketing strategies dictate urbanism and bubble economics drive unprecedented growth Dubai has surpassed the late 20th century syndrome of hype. Dubai exists less as an exported image of a perfected reality than as a concretization and realization of an idealized image. Dubai can therefore be seen as approaching a rendition that is more perfect and more extreme than its representation.
The result is Dubai as an edge celebrating the extreme in all of its guises, capable of moving beyond the limitless desire for iconic towers set within an ever growing eclectic skyline and for ever more extravagant structures and developments that carpet infinite building sites stretching both into the vastness of the desert and out to the endless horizon of the sea.
The studio will explore this ‘extreme edge’ condition as it is manifest in Dubai today and in it’s future trajectory. Students will conduct in-depth research to derive new tectonic strategies and planning approaches as counter tactics to the cliché and kitsch, as well as propose alternative lines of attack for programming. Through rigorous studies in form generation and surface manipulation, coupled with programmatic hybridization, students will be challenged to produce proposals that are based on models of economic and technological viability as currently exemplified in Dubai while generating architecture that is optimized to ‘perform’ at the highest level in a twentieth first century Alpha city.
Students should be skilled and knowledgeable of three dimension computer design methodologies. There will be a Kinney trip to Dubai and the United Emirates associated with this studio.