Dubai's modernist landmarks of the 1970s and 80s to be preserved

Deira Clock Tower and the Trade Centre were the first to be listed

Deira - July 12, 2010 - Perhaps the most well known roundabout in the UAE, the Clock Tower Roundabout, built around 1964, is the gateway to Deira, Dubai July 12, 2010. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)
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A new project will document and preserve modernist structures that were built in Dubai's economic boom of the 1970s and 1980s.

From brutalist facades to the Arab world's unique take on modernist architecture, the arrival of tower blocks and public monuments marked the transformation from a pearl diving town to a global trade hub.

Deira Clock Tower and Dubai World Trade Centre were the first to be added to the list, Dubai Municipality said on Sunday.

Officials will look at how the buildings are maintained and be made to last.

It's part of understanding what the place grew from. People nowadays often get too carried with these wonderful new buildings

“Preserving our urban heritage and culture that we have inherited through generations, and the intellectual and creative legacy it has presented to us, is an historic responsibility that we will carry today and our children and grandchildren in future,” said Dawoud Al Hajri, director general of the municipality.

“Modernity is only complete by absorbing history, learning from its lessons, and celebrating what it has given us as evidence that conveys to us a picture of the past that our forefathers and grandfathers lived and how they made the first beginnings of our modern renaissance.”

Deira Clock Tower was among the first, built in 1963. Historians said the structure - on a busy roundabout - was gifted to Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, then the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to mark the country's first oil exports.

British author David Heard, who has lived in the UAE since 1963, said the discovery of oil and the decision to become a free trade port hub marked the start of huge economic growth.

"When the first oil export from the country happened, Dubai was a very different place and that's when the Clock Tower was built," he told The National.

“As you came into Dubai from almost any direction, the Clock Tower was the first landmark you’d see, along with the Creek and Maktoum Bridge.

"The Clock Tower was essential to orientate yourself and say ‘that way is Sharjah and that way is the Bustan Hotel."

Mr Heard, who wrote From Pearls to Oil: How the Oil Industry Came to the United Arab Emirates, recalled the construction of the Trade Centre and its opening by Queen Elizabeth in 1979.

At 149-metres tall it was the tallest structure in the Arab world until Burj Al Arab opened in 1999. Today, the building houses offices and is linked to a much larger modern exhibition complex.

“The building stood alone. It was a very tall and you’d be able to spot it easily,” Mr Heard said.

“These landmarks may have little commercial value and some people might want to knock them down and put up something grander, but if you do that, then you are destroying memories and history that go back a long time," he said.

"It’s part of understanding what the place grew from. It’s absolutely essential to keep certain landmarks so people are reminded of the old days. People, nowadays, often get too carried with these wonderful new buildings.”

The municipality said it was in talks with Unesco about future entries to the sought-after World Heritage List, which recognises buildings and places with 'outstanding universal value'.

The UAE has submitted entries for consideration in the past, including Dubai Creek, Abu Dhabi Sabkha, Al Bidya Mosque, Sir Bu Nair Island and the Ed-Dur Site.

At present, the country's sole Unesco World Heritage site is the oases of Al Ain.