“Who are these oil-rich Arabs and what are they doing with all that money?” asked
National Geographic magazine in October 1975, not long after this photograph was taken by the award-winning US photographer Winfield Parks.
The “money” in question had resulted from the decision, made by Opec in October 1973, that its members should determine the price of oil, a move that saw prices rocket from US$3 a barrel to $11.65 in just three months.
When Parks and his colleague, the journalist John Putman, came to the UAE as part of a tour of the Arabian Gulf states, they discovered that a “magic wand of money” was transforming Abu Dhabi and that its ruler had started “spending millions paving, planting, and raising a modern high-rise metropolis”.
“From a sea of sand, surrealistic structures rise along the once-barren Gulf coast,” wrote Putman, of projects that included the French architect Henri Colboc’s plan for a new 60,000-seat stadium and associated “sports city”.
Colboc’s vision, which became the Modernist landmark Zayed Sports City Stadium when it was completed in 1979, was an integral part of Abu Dhabi’s metropolitan designs that were being drawn up at the time by the Egyptian town planner, Abdulrahman Makhlouf.
Both men feature in Parks’s photograph, which neatly illustrates the scale of the ambition that was driving the emirate’s transformation.
* Nick Leech