A decade ago the catchphrase ‘only in Dubai’ was a moniker frequently used to describe the wild plans that regularly emerged from the fast-growing city. A quick read of archived press releases shows exactly what it was like. Announcing the Dhs9.6 billion International Chess City in 2004, the plan was to have 32 skyscrapers all designed to look like pieces of a standard chessboard. The crown jewel in each area – the king tower – would have 64 floors and contain a luxury seven-star hotel.
‘We chose Dubai to host this gigantic undertaking because of Dubai’s international reputation as a place where imaginative projects can come to life,’ gushed Kirsan Ilumjinov, the Russian leader of the World Chess Federation, which masterminded the project in partnership with a chess-loving local developer.
‘You want it, we’ll build it’ was the unofficial motto. Funnily enough, Chessboard City was one of the first projects to be scrapped when the financial crisis eventually hit in 2009. However, after a few testing years, Dubai is now back on track, and the show of testosterone-fuelled ambition and sense of creativity has returned.
‘There are a lot of proposals coming from the bigger developers,’ says Bart Leclercq, the Dubai-based head of structures design at global building consultancy firm WSP Group, as we sit down to sift through the growing number of plans jostling for headlines. ‘There’s some really crazy stuff – bigger hotels and bigger malls.’ This is a man whose company has worked on projects including The Shard in London and New York’s Freedom Tower.
So what will Dubai be like in 2030, the date often picked as the latest horizon for development in the UAE? In the past 12 months, more than a dozen large projects – from theme parks to solar energy projects – have been announced in Dubai alone. Like those unveiled in the boom times, some of these will materialise and some may be modified. We’ve spoken to some of the most informed minds to get an idea of what our city will be like, and round up the most innovative.
Underwater hotel Besides soaring up into the skies, going underwater has always been a fascination for Dubai’s hotel planners. While many suggested blueprints have already come into existence (Atlantis The Palm already offers an aquarium-themed hotel suite where you can sleep among the fishes), it seems plans for another underwater hotel are back on track.
The shipbuilding arm of Dubai World, the company owned by Dubai’s ruler, has announced plans to build a series of partially submerged hotels across the UAE. Known as the World Discus Hotel, the scheme is set to include a laboratory for ocean environment protection and research. While previous plans have sunk without trace, these seem a lot more likely to happen: it was reported earlier this year that a prototype is currently under construction in Poland.
Status: Early prototypes in development.
Hadaeq Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid City Next week, Dubai hosts the Global Energy Forum from April 15-17, and the city has already unveiled ten new parks, with one containing a reported 45 million flowers. Green-fingered residents and sports fans will be delighted to know that Meydan – the company that stages the annual Dubai World Cup – is planning a huge project called Hadaeq Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid City. The 5 sq km project will feature neighbourhoods centred on ‘garden living’ and will be designed to resemble the English and French countryside and the Japanese gardens of the East.
Also among the plans are canals and lagoons, a horse riding trail, jogging paths, a spectacular bio-dome, a bicycle track and sports and skating facilities. On top of that, a Meydan Tower along Sheikh Zayed Road will include Sky Gardens, an indoor running track and the ‘Club House’ – a new rooftop eco-nightclub with its own infinity pool.
Status: At initial launch phase
Flower Tower Going green seems to be a trend: we’ve heard reports that a French architect is in Dubai looking for backing to build the Middle East’s first skyscraper covered in pot plants. Dubbed the ‘Flower Tower’, there is already a version in Paris, which includes plants built into the façades, plus balconies and gardens blended into the concrete and glass. While the French tower is just nine storeys tall, we imagine the Dubai version will be significantly bigger, taller and greener.
So how could the green hills and vales of Europe be recreated in the desert? Believe it or not, some Dubai developers are already working on plans to install ‘climate-controlled boulevards’. Developed by Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, it will mean the temperature on the boulevards will always be less than 30°C, even during the summer months. With the Gulf governments considering laws to ensure that at least 25 percent of all projects must be made up of green spaces, it seems Dubai in 2030 will be a brighter shade of green.
Status: In talks with Dubai developers.
Mohammed Bin Rashid City The biggest standalone project unveiled so far is Mohammed Bin Rashid City, or ‘MBR City’ as it has already been dubbed, with construction scheduled to begin soon at a location between Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road (formerly Emirates Road), Al Khail Road and Sheikh Zayed Road.
‘The current facilities available in Dubai need to be scaled up in line with the future ambitions for the city,’ said Dubai ruler HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum when he announced the plans. ‘Therefore we have to start work immediately… and boost the UAE economy to enable it to enter a new era in which it will become the capital of entrepreneurship, arts, culture, and family tourism for more than two billion people.’
The enormous MBR City project will include 100 hotels and a Universal Studios theme park, which will entertain 35 million visitors and will be the largest family leisure and entertainment centre in the Middle East, Africa and Indian subcontinent. The Dubai Mall may be arguably the biggest shopping venue in the world at the moment, but that title will be taken by an even bigger attraction called ‘Mall of the World’. And that’s not all: add to this ‘Cultural Crossing’, the largest arts gallery area in the Middle East, and a vast public park that will be 30 percent bigger than London’s Hyde Park.
The solitary Universal Studios gate already stands alone in the desert in Dubailand. So when will these rollercoaster rides rise out of the sand, to join it? The project is being overseen by Emaar Properties, the developer behind the Burj Khalifa, which has a solid track record. Ryan Mahoney, chief executive at Better Homes, Dubai’s largest real estate agency, is optimistically upbeat, especially as a number of the company’s recent projects have already sold out within hours. ‘As the Dubai property market has started to recover, it seems mega project announcements have returned. I’m not sure the market is the same place [as the boom days], and certainly did not react [to the announcements] with the curiosity you would expect. However, the Dubai that we see today was once considered impossible, so anything is possible,’ he laughs.
Status: Phase 1 to start early 2014.
Taj Arabia One of the flashiest developments that always features among the stands at the city’s property exhibitions in Dubai is Falconcity of Wonders. The project aims to include life-size replicas of some of the world’s most iconic architectural feats, such as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
While plans seemed to have slowed down in the wake of global credit crunch, last October the project got another big new addition: a replica of India’s beloved Taj Mahal, but four times the size. Construction isn’t expected to start until next year but it seems the larger Taj has already attracted interest from Bollywood producers eager to use the venue as a movie backdrop.
So what’s the likelihood of the Taj II emerging from the Arabian dunes? ‘All-new projects should have clear themes with business commercial models and proper funding before launch, because the majority of the stalled projects during the recession had a lack of funding or a weak business model,’ says Masood Al Awar, chief executive officer at Tasweek Real Estate Marketing and Development, the man who famously sold the first Dubai property to foreigners.
Status: Construction to start in 2014.
Dubai Modern Art Museum and Opera House District Lazy pundits and jaded expats who complain Dubai has no culture will be silenced in 2030. As well as plans for MBR City’s ‘Culture Crossing’, Dubai’s ruler recently unveiled a masterplan for the Dubai Modern Art Museum and Opera House District, a cultural area that will include a museum, two art-focused hotels, design studios and an opera house.
Located in Downtown Dubai, such projects are music to the ears of people such as Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, developer of Al Quoz artistic hub Alserkal Avenue and an influential patron of the arts. He’s planning his own expansion next year, and hopes such developments are only the beginning of things to come. ‘I think it’s important to note how much Dubai has achieved in such a short period: it has already become the commercial arts hub for the region,’ he says. ‘I’m confident that in 2030 it will house an array of academies for artists in residence, and very strong educational programmes for the artists.’
In terms of theatre production, Dubai’s nightlife is already embracing burlesque and cabaret-style venues – from Supperclub to MusicHall – and this is set to continue over the next decade, with work already started on a multi-billion-dirham complex on the site of the 35-year-old Metropolitan Hotel. Dubbed Habtoor Palace, the project will include three luxury Las Vegas-style theatre complexes and a string of tourist attractions, plus a theatre to stage Broadway-style shows. ‘Imagine what the scene would be like if just half of the plans come to completion,’ says resident art lover Kourosh Nouri, owner of Carbon 12 gallery. However, Nouri has one wish for 2030: that there will be more public art on display. ‘It’s a sad sight to see the gorgeous Downtown area without one significant sculpture. This is really needed – our galleries represent international calibres known for their public works, and so far in four years not even one enquiry has hit our desk.’
Status: Announced during Art Dubai 2012.
Rotating Towers Another pipe dream unleashed during the city’s boom days was plans for the world’s first rotating tower. While these were shelved, a similar project in London is now moving forward, which could set a precedent to resurrect Dubai’s plans, especially as the much-anticipated twisted Infinity Tower in Dubai Marina nears completion.
Bart Leclercq from building consultancy WSP Group is optimistic about plans for a moving tower in Dubai, in which each floor rotates, could be achieved. ‘To build something like that, I think it will be feasible,’ he asserts. ‘You could do it.’
London may be getting the rotating tower first, but Dubai is planning to surpass another of the English capital’s landmarks: the London Eye. The Dhs6 billion Bluewaters Island project off the coast of JBR will include the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, with a cable car to ferry visitors from the mainland to the offshore attraction. ‘If any city in the world has a spectacular view from above, it’s Dubai, so a Ferris wheel here makes perfect sense,’ says Leclercq of the Dubai Eye project, which starts construction this year.
Status: Drawing-board stage.
Dubai 2030: Shopping The Dubai Mall isn’t resting on its laurels: with its ‘largest mall’ crown soon to be challenged by the forthcoming Mall of the World, the Downtown shopping hub is planning a massive extension. Shopping fans will also be glad to hear that Souk Madinat Jumeirah, The Walk at JBR, DragonMart, Dubai Pearl, Palm Jumeirah, Ibn Battuta Mall, BurJuman, Dubai Outlet Mall and Deira City Centre are all on a long list of venues that have unveiled big expansion plans.
Yet while there will be more retail options in future, Elias Ghanem, the Dubai-based managing director of PayPal MENA, says the way in which we shop is changing.‘We’re moving away from cash. The mobile will enable you to buy at any time,’ he says. PayPal is planning schemes in which shoppers can buy anywhere, at any hour: even if a store is closed, a barcode on the storefront will allow window shoppers to go online, browse the products, pay and have the items delivered to their home.
Alternatively, why not use a futuristic vending machine? Scan the barcode and payment will be taken from your phone account as the goods are dispensed. It’s already possible in Asia and will likely be commonplace by 2030. What’s more, time-pressured workers will soon be able to text the coffee shop their espresso order, pay for it in advance and have it ready and waiting as they join the rat race.
We can’t predict the 2030 fashions with 100 percent certainty, but we’re sure that from food to apartments to hotel rooms, it’ll be even easier to get hold of whatever takes your fancy.
Dubai 2030: Nightlife Just like fashion, which constantly changes and evolves, nightlife trends move fast anywhere in the world. Recent form suggests Dubai’s trends are certainly identifiable: the winter of 2011/12 was all about the British invasion, with London’s Movida, Mahiki, Embassy and Cirque du Soir all setting up shop in the emirate within weeks of each other. For the following season, the focus had shifted south – it was the St Tropez of VIP Room, Villa Romana and Ibiza’s Cafe del Mar that excited both hoteliers and clubbers most.
So what can we learn from these trends? To predict where we’ll be in 2030, it’s prudent to take a look at the world’s emerging economies. While time-honoured European brands captivate for now, we’re noticing more smaller Russian and Asian venues opening in the Middle East. As these countries continue to grow, conduct business and travel, we’re likely to see established brands such as Singapore’s Zouk or St Petersburg’s legendary Mod Club emerging to take centre stage on the Dubai nightlife scene.
Technology will also play a part in our clubbing and gigging experience. Holograms are already part of many theatre and music productions: Irish actor Liam Neeson appeared as a 3D hologram last year in a version of London’s long-running The War of the Worlds musical, while former stars Elvis Presley and Tupac Shakur have taken to the stage for performances beyond the grave.
By 2030, we could be heading out to see bands performing in the US but beamed onto a stage in The Music Room, while live entertainment could feature regular Lazarus-style hologram resurrections, no matter how eerie they may be.
Dubai 2030: Dining & eating Only last week we unveiled the winners of the 2013 Time Out Restaurant Awards, but what will we be eating at the 2030 event? A study in Holland predicts that insects will be the new staple diet in 2030 as they provide much more nutritional value than meat. Well, we already eat snails: French venue Reflects Par Pierre Gagnaire has been named Time Out Dubai’s best restaurant three times, and if the French are okay with eating snails, then why not crunch down on grasshoppers and caterpillars?
In recent weeks, Dubai has hosted three ‘dine in the dark’ events, so it seems likely the Dans Le Noir concept – where blind waiters serve guests in the dark – will be the trendy new addition to the culinary landscape in the coming year. Indulging the senses is a key ingredient, with a recent UK study showing that music plays a vital part in your experience of the taste of food in a restaurant. Some restaurants in London already supply an iPod with specific music to accompany certain meals, so Dubai 2030 is bound to have tapped into this theme.
In terms of the food itself, there have been several plans over the year for ‘vertical farms’ in Dubai, with one aiming for a skyscraper-style greenhouse near Za’abeel Park. While these could offer fresh genetically modified ingredients for the diners of the future, Leclercq isn’t convinced they make a lot of sense. ‘It’s fun to think about it and explore the possibilities, but a horizontal farm on the ground would be much more cost effective and would make much more sense,’ he concludes.
Looking to fiction, we may also be popping The Jetsons-style meals in a pill or having our food materialise instantly in front of us, à la Star Trek. Our parents probably scoffed at the thought of microwave dinners and that has now become a standard daily feat, so today’s fiction could easily be 2030’s reality.