Saturday, 9 May 2009

Interview with George Katodrydis.

Could you describe Dubai as an urban format.

Dubai is a fascinating city, and a lot of people would not guess so in the sense that it is a planned city. The first master plan of Dubai happened in 1959, and it has been planned since then in a really visionary way. The only problem is that these plans have not been finished to their end, so a lot of the city feels half finished. At the beginning of the 21st century, Dubai is a strange city, because it’s a fragmented. The fragments and pieces of the city are really well organized, but there is no coherence as a whole. In that sense it presents a problematic city of the 21st century, built out of nowhere in the middle of nowhere, that will be difficult to sustain in the future.

Do you see Dubai’s urban format as unique, or do you think it represents a new urban format that is taking shape in cities around the world?

Dubai is a generic city, in the sense that well rehearsed urban theories and urban plans are being executed. It is very similar to other cities that have been emerging in the last 10 years. So in that sense it lacks historical uniqueness. I think what makes it fascinating is the speed and type of decision making that its leaders have applied here. The city is certainly changing on a yearly basis.

How important has the tourist been in shaping Dubai?

To look at the geographic location of Dubai, it really is a fantastic place, and it’s always been a place of transit, whether with traders, business travellers, desert nomads or tourists, people arrive here on route to somewhere else, but lately Dubai has been a final destination for many individuals. Projections say that by 2010, 15 million tourists will visit Dubai, which is an incredible amount of visitors. Its interesting to note the geographical location of Dubai, in-between the two emirates of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Dubai’s coast is about 45 kilometres in length in-between the two other Emirates, which is not very long. But with Dubai’s new prosthetic extensions been built out into the water such as ‘The World’, and the ‘Palm Islands’, that coastline of 45 kilometres has now expanded to 2000 kilometres. This interface of land and water, will become an enormous line of resorts, and hotels and hotel villas.

Dubai really does have this ephemerality. Nobody actually knows the living population of Dubai. On the other hand nobody can really predict that lifespan, and sustainability of such developments, on again something ephemeral which is tourist, whether they are here for 1 day or 1 month, they are considered temporary in Dubai. In a fascinating way the contemporary tourist trade here, fits very well with the history of Dubai. It is a nomadic city, and has always been a nomadic city.

How significant is the process of theming in the construction of Dubai’s built landscape?

Because the city is so new, and if you study the recent history of the city, you will come across archive photographs from the 50’s and 60’s when Dubai was just a small fishing village. It was not until the late 80’s, long after the discovery of oil, that the city expanded into becoming more modernized and westernized. For the contemporary traveller the city is a very interesting place to arrive, because one expects to find an identity, one expects to find the Arab city. When you arrive in Dubai at the beginning of the 21st Century, there is really very little history to see. What the city has managed to do in an amazing way, more than the theming of Las Vegas, is to re-enact its lost identity, by introducing anything that has been relevant in the Arab world in terms of history, whether this is the traditional village, souk or street bazaar, or a kind of re-enactment of Orientalist paintings. This can be an interesting way to inject a lost nomadic identity in the city ready made for touristic consumption. Dubai offers what a European or American expects to see in an Arab city. It is selling back to the west its own invented fictional imagings of Arabia depicted in Orientalist paintings. It is selling very well. For a Western tourist this Arabian identity constructed in developments throughout the city, is a really critical point of engaging with a locality.

One of the ambitions of the city is to make Dubai the capital of the world by the year 2050. It has to become a very global, a very international city in order to achieve this goal. The borrowing of theming from Venice and California and so on became a very fascinating political decision that is interfacing with an urban master plan solution. Given the global condition in the 21st century, of the tourist and investor who can built across the world without any limitations, somehow Dubai found this unique formula to attract both investors and buyers to consume this global vision that anything is architecturally possible.

Are there problems with Dubai’s built landscape and infrastructure, and if so how can they be resolved?

There are problems, not because of lack of planning, but because of the city’s inability in being able to adapt and change its plans. The city has been making decisions too fast in such a way that the city’s infrastructure has been unable to adjust. As they say ‘you built it and they come’ of course they build it and they do come, but then there are issues of congestion, and increased energy and water demands that become issues.

Where does Dubai currently stand on sustainability?

Development takes place here for investors and not necessarily for the end user. Because of this, the immediate and sensitive issue of sustainability is not addressed, partially because it will add an extra cost to the construction of a project. This means the initial investment for the investor will be higher, even though the running cost from solar power for example, would be lower for the end user. For an investor who is interested in building a property, selling it and making a profit quickly, is generally not interested in environmental sustainability. It is unfortunate that the city has developed without been sustainable but the government is becoming more sensitive towards this issue as people within the city are demanding that changes be made. We will achieve environmental sustainability, seen as in this part of the world we get more sunshine than anywhere else, that we can utilize, and convert into solar energy.

Where do you see Dubai in the future?

It’s a very interesting question. Certainly in the last 10 years, Dubai has placed a lot of emphasis on positioning itself as a global centre, and has had to be very flexible in changing its political decisions. The projection of its future, through a city of fantasy, of architectural renderings, in the middle of nowhere; it will sell itself as a utopian futuristic hybrid of West and East. Dubai uses the internet to communicate its imagery. I call this satellite urbanism; all of these amazing projects currently in development, people can view as drawings and simulations on the internet. Dubai really is a 21st Century Internet city in that sense. Dubai has managed to be one of the most spoken about places in the world.

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