Looking back at Dubai, it was a transit point for caravans on the trade route from Iraq to Oman, and for dhows between India, East Africa and the Northern Gulf. This eventually led to the city’s establishment as an international centre of commerce where many cultures and traditions mixed. Dubai’s traditional architecture reflects this blend of nationalities and cultures. Whilst clearly Arabic in style, it is also influenced by Asian and European ideas.
The traditional native style of architecture in Dubai is the result of a mixture of three dominant factors: the climate (hot and humid), the religion and customs of its people, and the locally available building materials.
At the beginning of the 20th century, as trade flourished, many mosques were constructed in residential and commercial areas so that people would be able to perform their daily prayers easily. Muslims gathered for Friday prayers at the grand mosque on the Dubai side of the creek. With its minaret and 52 domes, it was the most elegant building in town.
With the discovery of oil, Dubai witnessed an unprecedented population explosion. During the 1970s, the emphasis was on accommodating more people in less space, and Dubai’s skyline began to rise, as the Western concept of apartment buildings began to appear alongside the traditional houses.
Much of Dubai’s infrastructure was established in this decade (roads, housing, drainage, office buildings, etc.). The most famous building constructed at this time was the 39-storey Dubai World Trade Centre.
The 1980s saw architectural projects being developed more in relation with local culture, as many local architects graduated at this time. A shaded courtyard and water pools were added to the Dubai Municipality building, and traditional arches graced the Al Wasl Hospital.
The 1990s saw Dubai architecture mature, with still greater importance given to culture and heritage. Renovation projects were initiated all over the city, while public gardens were created in many areas.
The new materials and technologies now available are enabling more adventurous designs. Dubai now has some truly spectacular buildings, such as the Bur Juman shopping centre, office buildings like Emirates Towers and hotels such as Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach, all of which combine state of the art architectural design and technique with a traditional Arabic flavour.
1. Records of Dubai 1761-1960, Archive Editions, 2000, Vol.1, pg. 3.
Dubai – Gateway to the Gulf, edited by Ian Fairservice, Motivate Publishing, 1986
Architectural Heritage of the Gulf, Shirley Kay and Dariush Zandi, Motivate Publishing, 1991
Land of the Emirates, Shirley Kay, Motivate Publishing, 1999
The UAE and Oman, 2 Pearls of Arabia, Walter M. Weiss and Kurt-Michael Westermann, Motivate Publishing, 1996