[Image: Zaha Hadid’s Abu Dhabi cultural center, “part spaceship, part organism,” according to The New York Times].
In Abu Dhabi, The New York Times reports, “planners on Wednesday unveiled designs for an audacious multibillion-dollar cultural district whose like has never been seen in the Arab world.”
Frank Gehry, for instance, will be building a 320,000 square-foot “Abu Dhabi branch of the Guggenheim Museum,” and Jean Nouvel is working on “a classical museum, possibly an outpost of the Louvre.” There will also be – pictured above – a “sprawling, spaceshiplike performing arts center designed by Zaha Hadid.” More specifically, the article adds, Hadid’s building will be “part spaceship, part organism” – which, if taken literally, would make it not at all unlike something from the theory of panspermia.
Abu Dhabi’s construction boom is meant “to turn this once-sleepy desert city along the Persian Gulf into an international arts capital and tourist destination. If completed according to plan sometime in the next decade, consultants predict, it could be the world’s largest single arts-and-culture development project in recent memory.”
In fact, we read, “Abu Dhabi’s sheiks dreamed up this sweeping cultural project in late 2004” – around the same time BLDGBLOG came into existence (coincidence?) – “after brainstorming ways to attract more tourism to the emirate”:
After oil booms in the 1970s and 80s in which their proceeds were not always used wisely, Persian Gulf governments are now focusing on spending their surpluses on infrastructure projects and real-estate development. A new generation of leaders in the gulf, especially in the emirates, where a new ruler was installed only in late 2004 and where several ministers are still in their 30s, has looked beyond traditional real-estate projects to efforts that would help their cities stand out on the world stage.
So it’s part Syriana, part Mike Davis.
Either way, much of the Persian Gulf is now turning into what Davis calls “a vertiginous new stage in fantasy environments,” as states like Dubai and Abu Dhabi construct whole alternative versions of themselves in mere years.
[Image: “Visitors survey an exhibition unveiling designs for a vast and architecturally ambitious cultural district planned for Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates.” Akhtar Soomro for The New York Times].
In ten years’s time, though, will we find that all these structures are flimsy, half-failing, and in a state of disrepair? An Urdu-language Kafka appears, the rising literary star of the gulf states, first publishing anonymous short stories on a local blog, then turning out a full-length novel.
In that novel – a global prize-winner – we meet a man named Q. Q has been summoned to Abu Dhabi under only vaguely explained circumstances; deep within the subsidiary of some multinational real estate firm for which he works, Q has been assigned as the new building inspector for several high-rise towers in the quiet part of the city.
Residents have been complaining. Everything breaks. Possessions disappear.
Q finds that a flat has been rented for him in one of the towers. But, soon, he discovers many of the problems firsthand: elevator doors open without revealing any elevators; he puts his elbow straight through the wall five times, even while simply gesturing in conversation; there are mysterious lapses in water pressure; on certain floors, mobile phones don’t work.
Even stranger, there appears to be some kind of growing rivalry between the residents of Q’s tower and the families living next door, in the building’s near-twin, a far wealthier tower located just two hundred meters away. It is rumored that Shaquille O’Neal once owned a penthouse there…
With a wink to J.G. Ballard, the book explains how the residents’ dogs are being murdered and barbecued, left smoking in open pits all night; but, returning to the Kafkaesque, we read that Q himself is suspected of being behind all this…
And perhaps he is.
8 thoughts on “Desert elevator”
Jean Nouvel is working on “a classical museum”…
greek and roman classics I assume, seeing as the architect is European, and so are the museums.
One day when all the oil (and money) is gone, these amazing structures will be reclaimed by the sands and be visited only by tourists eager to walk amongst an abandoned desert city to rival that of Petra or Perselopis. Possibly.
They wont’ be reclaimed by the desert. They’ll be underwater due to global warming, caused, in no small part, by the hydrocarbons that made the city rich in the first place.
They should plan ahead. Roads will become canals. Design a dry-dock version of Venice.
Never mind a desert ‘High Rise’ decades hence. We’re straight into ‘Vermillion Sands’ here…
“One day when all the oil (and money) is gone, these amazing structures will be reclaimed by the sands and be visited only by tourists eager to walk amongst an abandoned desert city to rival that of Petra or Perselopis. Possibly.”
Khartoum (also part of the UAE) is going through a construction phase too right now (although nowhere near as big). Anyway, economically Dubai is already in trouble, while it’s set aside legislation that favors finacial services etc. it’s having trouble. But that aside, people flock to Disney World every year, and if Abu Dhabi and Dubai can sustain themselves on tourism of a slightly classier sort and their growing IT sector (both cities have IT schools that are highering some decent prospects) works out they’ll probably do OK. At the very least, they’ve shown decent planning and a willingness to commit billions in construction money to developing an economy not based on oil.
Khartoum? It’s in Sudan.
All this talk of imminent decay reminds me of the slogan the Situationists used to daub on the sides of buildings:
“Soon to be picturesque ruins.”