The Spectacular Transience of Dubai


The Washington Post‘s Philip Kennicott visits Dubai, the most spectacular, extravagant, tawdry, and dismaying construction project in the world. While Iran invests its petro-dollars in nuclear weapons to menace Norman Podhoretz and security forces to beat up university students, Dubai invests in giant buildings situated at the crossroads of the twenty-first and the ninth centuries.  Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel and Tadao Ando have all designed buildings for Dubai, and not one of their designs makes any sense. The city’s most famous project is the Burj Dubai, the tallest free-standing structure in the world, which rises from the forest of construction cranes as gracefully and monstrously as a dragon. Kennicott is so overwhelmed by the profusion of galling forms in the emirate that he can only throw up his hands and declare the end of civilization as we know it, remarking it’s "as if the whole trajectory of Western architecture, indeed, the project of Western civilization, is so yesterday.
Dubai presents itself as a new crossroads of civilization and an
unrepentant borrower and collector of the best. The dissonance is the

Dubai’s wild hodgepodge of architectural forms–"globes atop boxes, teardrops mounted on pillars, bent slabs fastened to concrete goal posts"–and giganticism are hallmarks of a historical obscurantism typical of fascist enterprises. The city is paying attention to preserving local architectural styles (a handful of 100-year-old mud huts) and improving conditions for its masses of foreign workers (it’s now mandatory to include one window per room). Mostly, though, as Kennicott points out, the government is trying to send a message to the world: "Look at what enlightened, corporate, efficient and non-democratic government can do."

Forget all the nonsense about Islamofascism. Dubai is a form of corporate fascism instantly recognizable to the West. Furthermore, the city’s feverish desire to create "instantly iconic" buildings will result in eye-catching but transient forms. Hitler liked stadiums while Mussolini preferred ersatz Roman forums, but Dubai’s fascist model is the airport. In place of roaring masses, Dubai showcases transience itself–the constant movement of corporate managers, despots, manual laborers, capital, and commodities–as the irresistible power in the globalized economy.

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  1. You failed to note in Dubai;
    – internet sites which offend data-sentinels are banned by internet filters?
    – two Telecoms have monopoly control of internet services access with the outside world?


  2. The UAE is definitely a controlling society, although by Persian Gulf standards, it’s relatively liberal. Still, people raise legitimate questions about Western architects who work there.


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