Bastakiya’s old architecture juxtaposes sharply with Dubai’s masses of jaw-dropping skyscrapers. Queen Elizabeth opened Dubai’s first skyscraper, the 39-story Dubai World Trade Centre in 1970’s. Now, the building is dwarfed by those nearby. It looks like short, little me next in a crowd of NBA players.
When Dubai learned that it was running out of oil in the late 1990’s, it set about remaking itself as a business and vacation destination. With massive infrastructure projects underway, they began building skyscrapers with adventurous designs. At one point, they had crews working around the clock on projects. For example, up to 13,000 workers worked day and night on the Burj Khalifa. At times, they built a floor in as little as three days! Someone told me that at the height of the boom, a new skyscraper was completed each week. Dubai continued this voracious building until 2008 when the economic crisis hit.
At that time, construction on the world’s tallest building was underway. Financing fell through. Rather than scale down the size of the project, the president of Abu Dhabi president who’s financial bailout saved stepped in to save Dubai, and gave around 10 billion dollars to complete this futuristic building. The tallest building in Dubai had always been known as Burj Dubai (the Dubai tower). To thank, him for completing the structure, it was named Burj Khalifa instead. At 828 meters (2,717 feet with 160 floors), it is the world’s tallest man-made structure. Sorry, I had trouble getting it all in the shot.
The crazy, ironic (and perhaps preposterous) part is that a large part of its interior sits empty and will remain so for the foreseeable future. At least that is what we were told by locals while there. Can you imagine what it costs to cool?
You can visit the world’s highest observation deck there. It was so hazy and the wind clouded the views with sand so I skipped it. I’m guessing that on a clear day, the views are stunning. We did get to see the The Dubai Fountain show. It reminded us of the Bellagio’s fountain in Vegas, only bigger. It is Dubai after all.
The nearby Sheikh Zayed Road and surrounding downtown Dubai has a stunning array of futuristic skyscrapers. Coming from Geneva where the tallest building is a 12-story hotel that is well away from downtown stories, it was a bit surreal. The glittering Emirates Towers pair of triangular-topped modernist marvels are instantly recognizable.
Most people instantly recognize the iconic Burj Al Arab, which is shaped like the sail of a dhow with an accompanying wave-shaped hotel. It quickly became a symbol of the booming city. It is crazy to think that this skyscraper with a lobby is higher than the Statue of Liberty is built on an artificial island. They immediately began marketing the heck out of it although it’s impossible to earn more than five-stars, it’s marketed as a the world’s first seven-star hotel. Exemplifying Dubai’s insane extravagance, 1600 square meters of the interior are sheathed in gold leaf. How do you say gaudy in Arabic?
You can see the Burj al-Arab from the nearby Arabian-style Madinat Jumeirah, a hotel, shopping and entertainment complex. It reminded me of an Arabian themed Vegas or Orlando hotel. On the bright side, it is more tasteful than the Hard Rock Hotel or Treasure Island. Perinally in workout clothes, I’m probably not the best person to be an arbiter of taste anyway.
The nearby Wild Wadi water park is one of the world’s best, with over 30 rides and attractions.
Heading further out, you reach another megaproject, the palm-tree shaped Palm Jumeirah. Viewable from space and touted as the eighth wonder of the world. It is an astounding mock-Arabian city, replete with five 5-star hotels, astoundingly expensive “beachfront” Arabian style residences (this is where Maradona, the coach of the local football team lives), restaurants, leisure facilities and, of course, shopping. It is another example of opulent kitsch on an epic scale.
Exiting Palm Jumeriah, you see New Dubai,centered around the vast Dubai Marina development, to your right. It has is the city’s next Big Thing, home to a string of luxurious beachside resorts and an extraordinary number of cranes. Glass and steel architectural wonders begin to blend together. It’s a shame because many of the buildings have audacious designs and sleek, innovative flourishes.
I’m so glad I went to Dubai, not just because it is interesting. The scale and the speed with which it was attained is something that I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend if I hadn’t seen it.