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.