Delirious Dubai

the palm islands dubai

A friend of mine alerted me to an interesting article in the New York Times on the trouble in Dubai. Dubai, one of Mike Davis’ Neoliberal Evil Paradises, has been enjoying an economic boom over the last several years. A corollary to Dubai’s financial power has been an unprecedented building boom. Dubai wasn’t building just any old skyscrapers. It was building the world’s tallest skyscraper, revolving skyscrapers, whole archipelagos of luxury islands and many other wonders of contemporary starchitecture.

dubai cranes
Photo from AP [ via ]
The building boom was so extensive, that an estimated 25-50% the world’s construction cranes were located in Dubai. The crane boom was matched by the production of architectural forms. World’s most prominent architects lined up at the Emirate’s door offering science-fictional visions of mutant architecture.

chicago tribune entry by loos and rotating tower dubai
Unbuilt Tribune competition entry and rotating tower

I’ve always thought that Dubai resembled the 1922 Chicago Tribune design competition for its headquarters. Hundreds of architects and lay people submitted sometimes outlandish proposals for “the most beautiful and eye-catching building in the world.” That competition was won by Raymond Hood & John Mead Howells. In Dubai every starchitect was a winner. Almost every month some marketing materials announced a new iconic project. It seemed that every design was going to get built!

Now, the Dubai economic bubble seems to be popping. Streets once full of luxury vehicles are empty. Thousands of cars sit abandoned in the Dubai airport left by foreign workers fleeing the country to avoid debtor’s prison. Unemployment is rampant. Dubai’s economic power now resembles a desert mirage. That huge number of cranes (which appears to have been a little… inflated) is sure to shrink as the building boom is grinds to a halt due to plummeting real estate values. Things are not looking good.
The NYT article had a tantalizing passage:

Lurid rumors spread quickly: the Palm Jumeira, an artificial island that is one of this city’s trademark developments, is said to be sinking, and when you turn the faucets in the hotels built atop it, only cockroaches come out.

A couple of months ago I wrote about an imaginary Ballardian ‘Drowned World’ theme park… in Dubai. It seems they’re getting a little closer to accomplishing the task.

the drowned world swimming pool


On a different track, check out Jeet Heer’s recent post on the role ‘free and rich’ Dubai played in neoliberal capitalist imagination. The comments section has an interesting discussion which vaguely reminds me of a recent comments on this blog.

1 Response to “Delirious Dubai”


  • It’s ironic that the NY Times describes how quickly rumours spread in Dubai, given that they are doing their share of misreporting themselves. A police source said 3000 abandoned cars were found in Dubai (not just the airport) in 2008. That then becomes thousands of cars at the airport. The NY Times paints a picture of lemmings running to the edge of the cliff but it hardly looks like it to me. Yes there is an economic crisis, but so there is almost anywhere else in the world. And there never were 25-50% of the world’s cranes in Dubai. Just another number that was picked up on and become urban legend.
    Love the picture of the swimmers BTW!

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