A surprising skyline

Residents of the UAE are familiar with what the Italians would call “una sorpresa all’orizzonte”, skyline surprise, the feeling of looking up and noticing a building you have never seen before. The news that Dubai’s striking Cayan Tower – the twisting tower off Sheikh Zayed road – was named one of the world’s best skyscrapers merely confirms what residents and visitors see: Dubai is an urban canvas being painted.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are examples of post-modern cities. They are possibly the only two cities in the world that are reshaping the environment to suit their city, rather than the other way around. Historically cities had to be built around the contours of whatever geographical features were there: rivers, mountains or valleys.

But these two cities are adapting the environment to suit them: witness the building of the Dubai canal – a water feature that, in other cities, would have to be built around is here constructed especially. The same with the vast man-made islands and the waterfront extensions reclaimed from the sea. Every time residents of these cities look up, there’s a new addition to the skyline. Apart from the accompanying roadworks, that’s usually a pleasant surprise.

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