Architect claims Dubai failed by trying to recreate Tokyo skyscrapers

New York architect, Danny Forster, of Danny Forster Design Studio.

New York architect, Danny Forster, of Danny Forster Design Studio, claims Dubai made a big mistake in copying other cities that have high rise buildings.

In a report by the Manila Bulletin, he said the most exciting thing for him is seeing buildings that are really, truly born out of their place.

“Dubai is a city that had an opportunity, and rather than investigate their own history, their own culture, they tried to become Tokyo. They tried to become Shanghai. And I think that’s a huge mistake,” he said.

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“What’s most exciting for me is to see what I call site-specific buildings—buildings that relate to their place. A skyscraper in Kuwait City, should and will be very different from a skyscraper in New York City because there’s different ecological conditions. The sun is different. The winters are different. The skies are different.”

Forster added that when cities make decisions they look to other ones as models.

“Other cities can be helpful in terms of understanding the mistakes made or the strategies used, but ultimately, no other city [has] the same conditions that exist in a given city. So the most important research any city has to [do lies] within their own boundaries,” he said.

“I think all buildings, at their best, respond to a set of conditions. They respond to a set of economic conditions, environmental conditions, political conditions, and the best building arises out of that moment in time.”

Forster was talking ahead of his US show “Build It Bigger,” which premieres its fifth season on the Discovery Channel on July 28. It is a weekly show that features monumental projects from different parts of the globe.

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15 Responses to Architect claims Dubai failed by trying to recreate Tokyo skyscrapers

  1. Peter Rush says:

    True enough that Dubai envisioned itself as a Hong Kong or Singapore wannabe. It is easy for Danny Forster today to make this criticism of the designs selected and approved for construction in Dubai, but where were the architects and urban design engineers when the spending began? All too busy responding to a single man’s dream which annihilated all historical and cultural relevance.

    Architects bear a huge share of the responsibility for this anomalous, dysfunctional eyesore in the sand. Sadly it appears that for all the extraordinary exceptions in the world, the “client is right” mentality still wins out in the end – even when it is transparently obvious that the client is misguided and capricious.

    Just imagine Burj Khalifa atop Victoria Peak, or in Chicago, where the design originated.

  2. Radomír Bárta artistic blacksmith sculptor says:

    Mr. Architect, I worked for a narrow range of people from Dubai. I know what you’re talking about and I agree with you. In Dubai forgotten their history, which I very interesting. Now dominated by many glass, polished stainless steel and the like. But even this modern material can be used with a different result. I wish you much success in work and life. Sincerely Radomir Barta

  3. Indu Varanasi says:

    True and well said, but perhaps a bit too late. Yes there is a lot of virgin land here to experiment but why break away from the past. We are all defined by our past and should be proud of it.
    To the previous comments, where are those consultants who built without any considerations to the the local culture and scenario. I think it is a shame! some introspection is necessary.
    Wake up and react to the local context, each part of the world has beautiful things to offer, don’t globalise to the extent that we forget where we are.
    Think ………………….

  4. Tukaram Miskin says:

    Dubai’s failure is attributable to global economic melt-down. It has nothing to do with designs! All said and done, for a commonner, Dubai still appeals for its stylish sky scrapers.
    Yes, certainly the developing cities can learn from the mistakes of other cities.

  5. Hilal Mahdi says:

    Dubai, I am living and enjoying. Well criticism is easy, if you have to visit the city, still a mix between modem and cultural still visible, no city is perfect as well Dubai, but a vision to improve is there. New structures with cultural effect is on, try the drive in Jumerrah beach road, the (old) late 70-80 soulless villas are giving way to new hip heritage new structures, any sky scraper still a unique tall un-human scales alien across all metropolitan sites. At least in Dubai they planned the sky scrapers in the new urban expansion sparing the nucleus in (Dera and Bar Dubai) the Old City. What could be freaky globally is removing the cultural valued old city plots for alien scrapers invasion. Did Mr. Forster lost a bid lately in Dubai! or teasing to win new one?

  6. Manupriam says:

    So one glass building is different from a glass building 60 storey high thousans of miles away and our priests of the high temple of architecture can discern them from far. Dubai is a phenomenon in happening, world still has to fathom its realities. You cannot compare it any other citiy in the world, because it never tried to emulate any one of them. Whats happening in Dubai is unique to Dubai, with it being the melting pot for all the unachievable ideas otherwise not possible in the far more democratic societies across the world. For many its akin to ‘sour grapes’, those who are part of the experiment, its still a roller coaster ride…

  7. Darrell McLean says:

    Danny’s observations are not particularly fresh, insightful, or clever, nor are they entirely appropriate given that the creators of what we have here in Dubai were indeed mostly foreign Architects largely from the America’s and Europe. One has to wonder why the world’s supposedly best Architects did little other than to build monuments to themselves and turned their backs on exploring and better interpreting the ‘genus-loci’ of the place.?

    More importantly where was the collective will to try to stitch together the urban fabric and similarly achieve some sort of collective discussion between the various buildings?
    It seems they all rushed here and competed for their “piece of the pie” then when the GFC arrived they ran away and now fire off barbs from afar suggesting it was all Dubai’s fault……really?

    On the other hand there are some very good examples of appropriate site-specific ‘constructs’ here in Dubai which have indeed taken inspiration from the local culture and architectural heritage of the place including The ‘Burj Al Arab’ and it’s nod to the Bedouin Tent, and also the whole ‘Downtown’ area including ‘Souk Al Bahar’ which more than adequately references the indigenous fortress style buildings which can still be seen around the Bastikya area as well as many parts of the adjacent Emirates including Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah.

    Nearly all new local ‘Design Briefs’ now require respect, recognition and interpretation for the local culture and history of Dubai within the context of the required design outcomes, and accordingly we are starting to see a marked switch to the smaller players and local interest groups who seem to be starting to make a considerable difference.

    The future is looking ‘out’ – not ‘up’.

  8. Mike Lewis says:

    Rather than dwelling on an obvious point that has been debated many times over the author clearly has never lived in the emirate, and fails to see the positives that have been created through the vision of this nation. Sure there are elements of Dubai that stand out for the wrong reasons, but what about celebrating a nation that was brave enough to stand up and create a brand new city from nothing? Its is an easy thing to critise, and much harder to find solutions for the next generation. Dubai and the wider UAE is on a long and eventful road, we have only seen the start of its development path. Get on a plane, live here for a while, and talk to people that know and care!

  9. DGold says:

    There are no good economic reasons for ultra-tall buildings in Dubai – a city with plentiful open space. New York and Hong Kong, yes, with their very limited land, and that is where the tallest buildings should be built. To me, Dubai’s skyline looks stupid and unnecessary.

  10. Ojogbane Ishaka says:

    It’s like Danny has lost a bid in the Emirates… How was Tokyo some decades ago? UAE has just started and with time it will be a model, maybe then he will call it fusion Dubai

  11. alf seeling says:

    I have lived in Tokyo and now live in Dubai and the comparison is mis guided as there is absolutely no relationship in either aspiration, culture or built form. A better comparison if any woud be Singapore. A transient place built on trade and speculation. But neither of those asian cities could compare in terms of the speed in which the city responded to the investment frenzy which in the end was the true reason for Dubai’s sudden downfall. The growth was not sustainable without tranparent property and ownership laws. Investors didnt actually think about security, only some rights to a piece of unseen real estate that could be flicked on for a quick profit. In the end this pace of development certainly built a city but couldnt possibly generate an instant community. In my 10 years here I have always advocated solutions that are totally locally relevant. The heights of buildings is not the issue, its the way they touch the ground and the people that use them. Things have settled down since the cliff and the population that remains is gravitaing into pockets that were better planned and these areas are holding their values. Over time maturity will prevail and Dubai will develop its own place in the world and people will again gravitate to the place for those reasons.

  12. Jofer Magsi says:

    Armchair critiques are just that: building cities in Mars whilst confined on Earth. But Dubai – or any place for that matter – will be shaped by those that stay on.

  13. J Krishnan says:

    Unplanned development. That summarises Dubai’s growth in the last decade. It lingers and is embedded in construction, road design etc. Good quality roads, but lack of proper road names, lack of road signs that say “you are here” “that way to this place” (not about main roads), illogical road designs, lack of exits where you expect one, lack of easily viewable building names ( where else on earth do people have to identify a building / office by the laundry at ground level !)

  14. Ong Swee Huat, Rodney says:

    That’s put it this way. Any building tower that were built whether in Hong Kong , Singapore or Shanghai were catered to the needs of the one that is paying the bills. You could have all your jazz about history, cultures and what have you. But the end of the day, what is the purposes of building those highrises? Not for history not for cultures? Profit my good architect. No profit no built right? The one paying the bills is not going to care about all those, sorry to say. cock and bull stories. Money is their god. No money no talk.
    That’s what I learned from my practising for almost 35 years my friend. Sorry to disappoint you. But it’s a fact of our architect’s life, either you like it or not your choice. Have a nice day. Thank you.

  15. David Traversa says:

    I only know Dubai by photos or documentaries. I wish I could be there if only for twenty-four hours to feel in person those incredible towers and ample avenues.
    All that luxury, extreme comfort, newness, cleanliness…,
    Just consider the incredible luck of those that can afford it.

    This of course is just a dream, never to come true in my case; I just tell you that I couldn´t care less if the windows in my flat were Islamic Geometric Design from The Thousand and One Nights or plain Le Corbusier “contemporary” style.

    To be up there, on a hundredth floor, in a flat all done with contemporary pieces of furniture and knowing that you can afford all expenses I´m sure it makes one to feel a VIP from the word Go.

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