Joe Tabet from JT+Partners analyses the masterplans of Paris and Beirut

The managing director of Dubai-based architecture firm JT+Partners, Joe Tabet, discusses masterplanning from a bird’s eye view and compares Paris to Beirut and Dubai.

Paris is such an old city – how has its development over the centuries affected its masterplan?

When we look at Paris, we’re looking at the growth that happened across the last thousand years and the way the development has responded to that growth.

Through time, the historical, political, social and cultural mix created the current situation, and continues to organise the urban fabric and geometry of Paris today. This can be seen in the ring roads and the zoning layouts, like the arrondissements. It’s a school of urbanism to follow such order from the central elements and move outward from them.

That’s how historical and social axes at the urban level were created, like the axis that you can draw from the Grande Arche de la Défense to the Arc de Triomphe to the Musée de Louvre.

Unlike Paris, Dubai was a blank sheet, so now when people want to develop here, they draw the axis to Burj Khalifa. With time, Dubai’s fabric will create and develop more historical axes for the future generation.

A map of Paris shows its radial development

You’re describing the radial grid. Beirut also applied that sort of layout.

Look at Place de l’Etoile in Beirut – there are a lot of new buildings, but the masterplan is still intact. It’s a very small plaza with a modest masterplan and minimal urban fabric around it, but everything radiates from it. Unfortunately, with the war that happened, the radial continuity was interrupted by a rectangular grid. Now, as we move out of the city, we see the radial grids are discontinued and disturbed by rectilinear grids. This gives us an example of two different grid systems coming together and merging.

The Beirut today literally sits on several layers of its rich and tumultuous history. The deeper you excavate and explore below, the more you find the marks and traces of the old urban grids that will explain the eras of its diverse background of Phoenician, Roman, Mameluke, Ottoman and colonial rule that helped shape the city.

Well, masterplanning in 2017 seems so different – especially in Dubai, which offers more freedom. What sort of demands do you think will start affecting future masterplans?

The beauty of master-planning in 2017 is that everything is possible. There are no challenges that we cannot meet with the technology that we have.

Things are changing now, for sure. Dubai’s growth in the last 40 years was based on demand and increase in population, which is similar to Paris. However, in the last 13 years, the city has developed at an incredibly fast and positive pace which helped the UAE in general, and Dubai in particular, to be “on the world map” and among the world’s best renowned destinations.

Beirut’s layered history manifests in its urban development that makes use of radial and rectilinear layouts

That growth is still happening today, abut it’s emotional and it’s being led by different developers, which creates clusters of similar communities and overloads the city with too much of the same. It’s time for a general urban plan vision for the city of Dubai in order to add more value to the current “added value” of the last 40 years of development.

This is needed to manage the future growth of the city at all levels. The UAE and Dubai are fast growing with a strong leadership. Recently, Dubai started testing “crewless two-person flying taxis”, which is great, but it creates more pressure for all of us masterplanners, architects, designers and authorities. So now the city has to adapt, people have to adapt, the architecture, masterplanning and infrastructure have to adapt.

This is why an overall urban plan for the UAE and Dubai is needed to help guide us in following the futuristic vision of the leaders for the next 20 to 40 years. Cities must be flexible in order to accommodate for the future and the rapid progress of technology.

Did Paris have the right approach? Yes. Did Beirut? Yes. Does Dubai? Yes. For their eras, they’re great and they worked. But what about the future?

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