Tall talk

Dubai

Oliver Ephgrave, editor of Middle East Architect, on why Dubai’s skyline deserves more credit

In the last few weeks I discovered an index by Emporis which ranked the world’s skylines. To my surprise, Dubai was placed eighth. While a top ten spot may seem commendable, the emirate was placed behind Seoul and even Sao Paulo, a city that’s hardly renowned for its sublime cityscape.

Upon further investigation, I realised that Emporis’ list was not opinion driven – it was based on the floor count of completed towers. Yet the survey made me consider where I would place Dubai if I compiled my own list of top skylines.

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Of course, great skylines are not just about tall buildings – other facets can be geographic or historic. But being a city in the desert that has experienced heavy construction in the last few decades, Dubai’s skyline unashamedly relies on high rises.

When it comes to skyscraper panache, I’d have to pick New York. As well as the classic art deco towers such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, I love the dense concrete canyons around the Wall Street area as well as the slick towers that surround Central Park.

Looking east, Hong Kong’s dense urban jungle is enhanced by the surrounding mountains and water, while Shanghai’s array of iconic towers is undoubtedly impressive.

Other renowned skyscraper centres include Chicago and Singapore, although I think the latter’s skyline is fairly nondescript. London, too, has experienced a tall building boom and Renzo Piano’s Shard London Bridge is taking shape on the banks of the Thames.

Dubai’s skyline is difficult to quantify as it has two clusters of tall buildings that are fairly far apart.

The more established cluster encompasses the Burj Khalifa on Sheikh Zayed Road while the other is located in Dubai Marina and boasts the world’s tallest city block, as covered in this month’s Work in Progress feature. Personally I prefer the former cluster, especially from the spectacular vantage point of Safa Park.

I’d certainly place the Sheikh Zayed skyline in my top five favourites, ahead of London, Singapore and Shanghai.

Perhaps I was always meant to reside in a city with tall towers. Long before I chose to study architecture, I was fascinated by skyscrapers. As a young teenager I persuaded my parents to visit our country’s tallest building – Cesar Pelli’s 235-metre One Canada Square in London.

I have a clear memory of standing at the base of the tower, craning my neck to the top and wondering how it was possible to build a structure that high.

Now I live in a city where tall buildings are so prevalent, that an unsung office complex that’s visible from my bedroom window – the 265-metre Al Kazim Towers – is significantly loftier than my homeland’s current tallest building.

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