Let a thousand buildings bloom

View of the Abu Dhabi skyline from Maryah Island (Silvia Razgova / The National)
View of the Abu Dhabi skyline from Maryah Island (Silvia Razgova / The National)

Architects and urban planners in China are going back to the drawing board because of one widely reported word uttered by the country’s president. The word is “weird” and Xi Jinping used it recently to refer to the type of architecture he said should no longer be built.

The trouble is, Mr Xi has not clarified what he means. He could have in mind some of the garish buildings made in the shape of objects – there have been office buildings built like mobile phones and liquor bottles. But observers think he might mean some of the signature architecture that dots the Beijing skyline – the iconic headquarters of China Central Television, for example, commonly called “the giant trousers”.

A similar question could be asked about both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, flourishing cities distinguished by unique architecture. In one sense, this newspaper feels it is appropriate to paraphrase the words of another Chinese leader and suggest it’s time to let a thousand buildings bloom. No top-down approach could plan the Burj Khalifa, the Emirates Palace, the Al Bahr Towers and Madinat Jumeirah. There is immense value in letting developers – and the market – decide the extent and design of new buildings.

But while that approach might work for signature buildings, it isn’t necessarily the best approach for neighbourhoods and large scale developments. There are some areas in, especially, Dubai that appear to have had too much planning, resulting in rather similar looking buildings – we’re looking at you, Discovery Gardens – or too little, resulting in buildings that don’t follow any theme – take a bow, Dubai Marina. The same thing can be seen in Abu Dhabi, especially among the mid-rise buildings put up in the past few years.

There is a real opportunity to build developments that both look good and enhance the quality of life of residents. It will take time, however, and require inspiring a new generation of Arab and Emirati architects, who can blend their heritage with the modern city. Perhaps the chance to alter the skylines of their cities will provide the necessary motivation.

Published: December 23, 2014 04:00 AM