European perspectives

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This stop in Europe helps to put the newest new cities into perspective.  In comparison, the next stops along the trip have very little visible history.  The sprouting city of Dubai has constructed towers of glass and reclaimed resort islands in an otherwise minimally developed desert landscape.  Abu Dhabi follows a similar pattern of building mirrored glass hotels and shopping malls, but this capital of the Emirates proclaims that it is greener and garners a more professional air than its glittering neighbor.  And if you think that a mere 30 years has begun to take a toll on these places, they each have plans for their own even newer cities.  Rem Koolhaas was designing and master planning a themed Waterfront City for Dubai and a conglomerate of Smith+Gill, Foster +Partners (among many others) is working on the Masdar Initiative, a “city of the future” located 17 km (11 miles) from Abu Dhabi’s city center.

The more recent turn of economic events makes me extremely grateful for the opportunity to travel.  Obama’s predictions surrounding the global economy for this year alone are dismal at best.  What happens to architecture in this climate, as our friends and colleagues fail to find work?  Can any amount of planning remedy the situation for cities?  Can we find traces where these efforts, in retrospect, only served to impede or worsen their current state.

Dubai, a booming city for at least the past 20 years, has finally exhausted all resources.  All future construction projects have halted.  Somewhere around 70%? of expatriate workers have become unemployed and, consequently, deported.  Who will occupy this city?  What role, if any, will the public space confront?

As I head out to the UAE, my older questions about Dubai have changed.  What life will the public sphere reveal this year?  Have former spaces of exchange become refuge for the unemployed?  Has gender changed its role in public now that a large chunk of a male-dominated work force has left?

Will projects like the Dubai light rail network (originally scheduled to open in September of this year) and Waterfront City ever be realized?

A layover in Athens and time will tell….

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