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Dubai: Too much, too soon

Rapid development has exposed gaping holes in infrastructure and serious concerns over build quality

The speed of the city’s construction, egged on by the speculative boom, revealed a severe lack of joined-up thinking. Towers were completed without an electricity grid to feed them; developments shot up without roads or pedestrian access. There’s a lot of horrible architecture too, with even worse quality issues. ‘They are going to start tearing these buildings down,’ says Carsten Hyldebrandt, international commercial manager at Danish practice Schmidt Hammer Lassen, currently shortlisted for work at Masdar. ‘Things have been built too fast, and not to last.’

Rumours of quality issues began when Palm Jumeirah – which recently launched its 1,056-room Atlantis hotel with a £20 million opening party – was reported as suffering from land subsidence (Gulf News, 04.11.06). Al Qamzi says one of the lessons Nakheel learned from Palm Jumeirah was to expect ‘a natural settlement of an average of 8cm’. ‘We had to truck hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of sand to compensate for the settlement,’ he adds.

Quality issues may prove a way into what is now a crowded market for architects. ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for,’ says Hyldebrandt. ‘The problems have caused an interest in quality among developers in Dubai. Three years ago, when we started talking to them about our experience in sustainability and quality, they were saying, just make it amazing and cheap – why do you need triple-layered glass?’

Architects with sustainable-building experience are also benefitting from a recent decree by Sheikh Mohammed encouraging the greening of Dubai’s built environment.
As a result, LEED certification has become fashionable among developers. ‘LEED is the thing clients want,’ says Morris, ‘but they just want the badge on the building. They don’t actually know what it means.’

Part 5: Credit crunch

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