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Sustainable Design
 
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
In an interview with SPIEGEL, German architect Albert Speer Jr. says Dubai's Burj Khalifa tower is purely a vanity project and argues that the emirate is an example of failed urban planning.

SPIEGEL: The Burj Khalifa just opened in Dubai. At 828 meters, it is now the tallest building in the world. What do you think of the tower?

Albert Speer: It's inspired by the Mile High Illinois project, a high-rise that American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed in the 1950s. That was meant to stand 1,609 meters tall. So, fundamentally, buildings such as the Burj Khalifa aren't inventions of the 21st century. Such plans existed earlier, it was just that they weren't feasible technically. Today, we have the means to build such towers. However that doesn't mean it's sensible to build them. It's purely a vanity project.

SPIEGEL: Is it a way for individuals to secure their legacy?

Speer: In the case of the Burj Khalifa, that is most definitely the case. Perhaps it will pay off. Perhaps there are enough people in the world who would consider an apartment in such a building to be the cherry on top of their luxurious lifestyle. But this has nothing to do with normalcy or a sustainable lifestyle. When one builds a city -- at least I think so, as a German -- one builds it for the next 200 years rather than the next 10. Take the German city of Freiburg, for example -- the layout of the city is the same as it was in the year 1000. But in Dubai, it is likely that the majority of the buildings there will have to be torn down again before too long.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Speer: I am convinced that the slums of the 21st century are, to a certain extent, being built there. Dubai has two sides. On the one hand, it's the Gulf state that doesn't possess any oil but which has nevertheless managed to get its name on the world map within the space of 20 years. Outstanding architecture made a significant contribution to that development. But, and this is the flip side of that, in terms of construction, not all the buildings are constructed to the same quality as the Burj Khalifa -- not by a long way. Many buildings were built quickly and on the cheap by speculators and are now standing empty.

SPIEGEL: Is it a case of failed urban planning?

Speer: One builds cities for people. The cities have to be used. The quality of the urban space is absolutely decisive in that respect. Many of the buildings that have been constructed in Dubai stand far too close together and weren't planned or built to an adequate standard in terms of living quality. I believe that Dubai got intoxicated with the idea that everything is possible. The collapse of that system demonstrates that it wasn't the right way to go.

01/11/2010

SPIEGEL Interview with Architect Albert Speer Jr.
Stephan Kaczmarek
Responses
 
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
i believe there is a correlation between building activity and the rise of slum areas, but i don't think that the quality of buildings alone is a determinant to the creation of slums. buildings can be repaired, upgraded, or even disposed of. however, communities that have taken root amidst neglect, intense struggles, and with little support from government are much more difficult to deal with. with very little options, they have resolved to be where they're at... no matter what. having gone through tough times, they could endure even more. if guided properly, this could form a core of an enduring society. left on it's own, this could be the immovable rock and source of a never-ending conflict. hence, the slums and the problems associated with it.

i don't suppose that slums could form in a region where if things don't work out, one could get up and leave. on the other hand, slums don't have that option... not without the intervention of a greater influence.

having thought of this, perhaps this may just be good for Dubai: the cohering elements like that in slums, but guided in a way that it doesn't end as such. we have seen how it is when almost everything can be disposed of in the cycle of consumerism - easy money, unsatiated consumption. and now that the recession has kicked in, what beautiful possibilities are there, you think?
Jofer Magsi
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
I believe that Prof. Speer Jr. is right. The term "slum" cannot be restricted to the meaning "informal housing"; in fact, the informal housing areas are much easier to upgrade than badly planned and constructed formal housing areas. I believe that the most important factor for the sustainability of a settlement is flexibility. The bigger the structures and developer's units, the less flexible.

Why flexibility? - Simply because upgrading intervention is much easier in small structures, people can transform smaller units by themselves or with little help of administration. Instead, most large units just will degrade until they get torn down.
Stephan Kaczmarek
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
i see your point. my view over slums, however, is more oriented towards neglect and injustice.

a 'slum' in my opinion is that throw-away part of town that the waste management department forgot to collect... and for years. that, in my belief, is a slum... out of mind, and hopefully out of sight so that it stays out of mind. abandoned, forgotten, and only until the sight and odour of it reaches beyond our fences do we then start thinking about it.

the term "informal housing" is a step-up as it only suggests that one had at least thought about slums that way, ie, that they needed the law to legitimize their being there, which then makes possible for resources to be channeled to them for upgrades and extension of services.

notions about 'flexibility' is, in my opinion, hint to a form of social engineering... and that means that some will make it there, and others will not and have to stay put.
Jofer Magsi
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Thank you, i see your point, too! Yes, from a contemporary point of view, slums are a matter of neglect. But please consider that many slums had once been projected as regular housing quarters, and then gradually degraded because of several reasons, among which are:

- bad quality of materials
- monofunctional planning approach
- missing employment opportunities
- social monostructure

Most of these points are given also in Dubai. This is why many of those structures, although suitable for a while, are not sustainable at all and likely to become slums.
Stephan Kaczmarek
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai

On "bad quality of materials"

The boom encouraged many to build shanty-like dwellings to take advantage of the strong demand for accommodation. But the recession has reversed that: with prices declining, the band becomes narrower so that poorly built edifices will have to compete with quality structures. What were once only available to a select group of people are now open to more consumers with varying incomes.

On "monofunctional planning approach"

This is possible for a too centralized structure, and is likely to be the norm while things are going well. But with the recession posing new challenges, new approaches are required and this hardly a result of monofunctional planning.

On "missing employment opportunities"

The boom allowed all sorts of characters to come in, and I don't blame them if they wanted to take advantage of the good times while its there. But now, situations have reversed, and the market has become more selective and price-sensitive. There are still employment opportunities, but one has to make sacrifices (ie, frugal living).

On "social monostructure"

To a foreigner, it does appear this way. But do consider that Dubai has more foreigners than locals (less than 20%). It's true that there are limits to certain liberties which are otherwise wantonly displayed in other countries, but I wouldn't call being that as 'social monostructure'. All in all, I believe Dubai will find her own unique and vibrant character.

-

I would still say that the key ingredients to the making of a slum are (1) prolonged neglect and (2) an entrapped population. For as long as citizens, residents, and government remain vigilant, I don't think Dubai will become the slum or the ghost town that not a few critics have pictured.
Jofer Magsi
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Dear Jofer,

I'm glad you are still there after my ski holiday! :) And I appreciate very much this lively discussion.

The urban development in Dubai is very recent. As a german urbanist, I feel reminded of the 60s and 70s in my country, when lots of new settlements had been built in a way similar to the development in the gulf states today. Most of them were built for middle income class, but, with a re-orientation of urban design to human scale and multifunctionality, degraded to focusses of social problems.

We have tried to learn out of that experience. We have figured out the above mentioned criteria (bad quality of materials, monofunctional planning approach, missing employment opportunities inside the residential clusters and social monostructure inside the residential clusters) as responsible for degrading city quarters.

As you mentioned, the development in Dubai before the crisis had already produced "shanty-like" settlements, which will certainly not be upgraded nor torn down in the next time. This kind of residential development is likely to degrade to slums, even more if the quality of future housing projects should rise.

I don't claim at all that Dubai might become a ghost town, I am sure it will not. But some the development sins of yesterday and today might degrade to slums, if they don't get repaired (structurally) by the public hand.

History keeps repeating... I hope that you are right and Dubai will find her way to a sustainable urban quality.

Greetings
Stephan
Stephan Kaczmarek
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
The book (and video) "How Buildings Learn" by Stewart Brand, might be of use here.

In a nutshell, buildings which were originally built for one purpose can be recycled when the original function has gone by being adapted for not one further use but even a number of uses. Provided of course that the structure and fabric of the building is sound.

Or to look at this situation another way, when the Romans left Britain most of their cities (usually based upon the standard Roman military camp) were abandoned and then were gradually recycled by being built upon and built over with people reusing the existing urban layout including the streets. In a similar way, even if this happens in Dubai, then what has been built will serve as a foundation for the future.
Frank John Snelling
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
dear Stephan,

does it really work?... i mean, building for the "middle class"?
Jofer Magsi
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Stephan again.

@Frank: Yes, many old buildings can be re-used. Especially if they have a construction which is statically indeterminate. But the dilemma with the new construction is that it is mostly prefab, which means statically determinate. If you take away one piece, the building will collapse - it is cheaper to rebuild than to re-use.

@Jofer: There is another option, which is reducing the size of development areas. We have to think in modules, not in whole districts. The smaller the module, the easier to exchange - ideally it would be the building's parcel!

Greetings, Stephan
Stephan Kaczmarek
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Stephan, So long as the structure is sound, any building can and will be used over and over ad infinitum, rather like a natural cave.

Jofer, In ancient Greece and later in Ancient Rome the layout of cities was based upon dividing districts into "islands" (city blocks) which were then divided into individual plots and sounds like your module idea.

The whole point of any urban landscape is ensuring a proper balance between maxim density population against enough roads, streets ans alleyways to allow for service functions, etc.
Frank John Snelling
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
dubai govt. has taken prevailing views and facts very seriously.....regarding congetion,infrastructure,servicies come up with strict gieudlines and time frame...time shall prove their point.
Dushyant Nathwani
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Frank,

what do you mean by "sound structure"? - Not every building can be re-used; these times have passed with the introduction of modern engineering. Modern buildings are specialised for one use, and it costs a lot of money to change structures / uses. Everything should be layed out more flexible, even infrastructure; maximum density doesn't help!

In my view the only option is the mix of uses. At least parts of the urban fabric must be flexible in use, to be able to react on changes.

Greetings
Stephan
Stephan Kaczmarek
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Dear Dushyant,

thank you for your comment. I agree that the government is doing a good job. But obviously it is very difficult to bring all these large-scale developments to a satisfying result.

Stephan
Stephan Kaczmarek
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Stephan, "Sound structure" is any building which does not fall down when gutted or not maintained. Therefore any building using expensive Hi-Tech materials, techniques and services that does collapse either (a) when gutted, or (b) when not maintained, is both a waste of resources and very poor design.

"Built-in obsolescence" does occur with temporary or home-made (shanty)structures, but then this is balanced by the cheapness of both construction and materials.
Frank John Snelling
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Dear Frank,

I think I get your point. Under the assumption that maintenance of buildings cannot be assured, e.g. in squatter settlements, you are perfectly right. But I think that this is not the case in Dubai. They are aiming at maximum profit out of the residential structures, and after twenty years or so they will change (re-build) it. There is nothing wrong about that, except that the URBAN structure is not suitable for changes! They should care more for urban sustainability than architecture.
Stephan Kaczmarek
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
I do agree that Dubai has been building too many vanity projects which are not only instantly produced, but also poorly planned...
Dubai is a city who just know how to "shock and awe" without considering the future consequences... City is an organic living creature that grows according to its cells' (inhabitants) will and needs... It's not stacks of legos manufactured and arranged just to satisfy small number of people playing it...
Rachmat Rhamdhani Fauzi
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
the Dubai phenomenon is a combination of several factors... where architecture, although not the main factor, was/is the most obvious and possibly the most maligned... and not so much for "architectural" reasons, but for what it means, which again varies to different people...e.g., to a developer, it's a way to make big money, ie, the grander the architecture, the more likely to sell the illusion... so Stephan, your idea at a smaller scale will need a lot of 'pushing' before it sells... but it will not guarantee sustainability... it only limits the scale of the possible losses for the developer... but not for the government: try having that carried out by numerous small-scale developers, you'll end up with a very patchy assortment over a huge landscape, with each only minding their own small part of it... it's cumbersome to administer, and it won't set any direction.
Jofer Magsi
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
the things visibel are certain projects effecting dubai sky line and much published by architectural magazines....the projects like palm islands and many with such themes are nature friendly and balanced....wish architectural reviewers have whole view than part and first hand information than others view.
Dushyant Nathwani
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
From what I have seen and heard of the new buildngs in Dubai, there has been no attempt to engage with either culture or tradition, so everything exists in a monotonous vacuum which is fine if there is no meaning to life other than to play in a Disney world where there is no past and no future.
Frank John Snelling
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
good point there. why does the world of Disney endure to this day? is it because of culture? is it tradition? is it the idea of no past and no future?
Jofer Magsi
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
"rome was not bueilt in a day",time shall prove what forces will sustaine dubai and it's architecture as well the vision of gulf economy.
Dushyant Nathwani
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
indeed, Dushyant. but i'm more interested in the response of those who seem to have certainty of past and of future, of culture, and tradition, and "marrying" them with "architecture"... this sounds like it is a separate entity on its own... one that could be independently designed, patented, and owned... and by the time you know it, that one already owns everything grafted to it... very powerful concept, don't you agree?
Jofer Magsi
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
patrons of culture,art,architecture normally gives free hand and enterprize to manifast,true that at times it becomes quite big and bothers all and would like to know future course ,i am of the opinion that time only can play active role....all can raise concern....effective results are those,which has time on their side.
Dushyant Nathwani
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Hello everybody! I love this discussion. Please let me contribute:

Disney Land carries the idea of an internationally accepted large-scale development. This is what is happening all over the world, in some countries more, in others less, and it is characterised by a lack of participation.

Only through participation of the people (and their corporate bodies, like administration or associations,) good and sustainable architecture (and urban development) can be achieved. But all the large-scale projects lack participation.

The issue of "scale" is the heart of my argument. For me, everything else is a consequence. I believe that a smaller scale does promote a sustainable development, because it makes the free market really work! The city is a picture of socio-economic realities, and the built structure is good if it can change "by itself", which means by the sum of decisions of all investors, rather than dirigism by government. I think the government must set directions, yes, but rather with a Strategic Master Plan like in Abu Dhabi.
Stephan Kaczmarek
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
Stephan, If you will refresh your memory with my post of August 22nd, the point I was trying to make was that the city fathers of ancient Greece and Ancient Rome laid out their urban spaces in blocks known as islands and then it was up to the individual to build within their won plots within these blocks and this approach agrees with your small scale.

As for the modern approach of putting up mock / fake "Disney Land" type buildings which have no link to either culture or tradition. While such things may be an ironic comment by the architect upon the way humanity has disconnected itself from reality, most of the people who live in such ugly, uncontextual and anonymous structures have convinced themselves that they are at the forefront of "Fashion".

Fashion that follows the trashy world of glossy magazines and flashy videos may be acceptable and even necessary to drive consumers to buy the latest passing fancy in clothes and musak; but cannot be acceptable or necessary for architecture because it reduces buildings to throwaway playthings for those who are addicted to new toys whose only claim to fame is cost.
Frank John Snelling
The Slums of the 21st Century Are Being Built in Dubai
very interesting points of views.....few years back , i studied the life cycle of commercial bldgs. and found that they were of 55 to 60 years....last year i found the same to be of 45 years in cities of india....i for see it going to 35 years by next 2 years in india......some day shall study dubai in detaile and let you know.
Dushyant Nathwani
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