designMENA Summit: The ever-evolving design of Dubai

Panel Discussions - DesignMENA Summit 2015 taken on the 8th of December 2015 at Grosvenor House, United Arab Emirates, (Photo by Sharon Haridas /ITP Images) ;Panel Discussions

The evolution of the architecture which makes up the distinctive skyline of Dubai is was addressed by a panel comprising Salim Hussain of Atkins, Steve Velegrinis of Perkins + Will, Ross Milne of 10Design and Farid Esmael of X Architects.

The debate started by looking at the original growth of the city with vernacular designs to the fore – before modernism came along as the UAE’s oil reserves were exploited and its economic strength grew.

“The profession of architcet, for a time, did not exists in thei part of the world,” said Esmael. “It was just builders who came in and builtwith models imported from places such as the UK.”


Host, broadcast journalist Richard Dean, added – to general amusement – “horrible 70’s architecture – I hold my hands up.”

The panel agreed design has now entered a more mature phase.

Velegrinis said: “People are now starting to look at the forgotten spaces between islands of development. City Walk is one such project.”

Hussain agreed saying: “Design needs to think about the human scale. High rise towers have their place but cities are for people they live and work in them. As designers we have to ask the question ’how do we make that a pleasurable experience?’

“One thing we need to do is – think beyond the car.”

The panel agreed that traffic was an issue in Dubai and said that maybe only an iucrease in fuel prices would draw people from behind the wheel. Some members of the audience, however, said they had changed their addresses to bring work or school with easy reach.

Milne drew on his experience of working in Asia by saying that China and Dubai shared one thing in common – land is under the ownership of a central authority, bot individuals. He said this made it easier for masterplanning.

The panel agreed that developments such as Dubai Opera District emphasised the city’s growing awareness of a need for culture – which members agreed had come about in a relatively short period of time.

Dean agreed that areas such as Downtown were developing buts asked – what about places such as Tecom?

Hussain said: “Cities can take centuries to develop and it is too early to say Dubai has got it wrong – look at London. Parts have been recently redeveloped and they are awful. Some are historic, some are new and wonderful.”

There panel agreed that developers were increasingly aware of the importance of the outdoor environment.

But Hussain said: “As a society – here in Dubai – we need a mindset change. And that has to be around walking – going for a walk as an activity.”


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