City on the Gulf: Koolhaas Lays Out a Grand Urban Experiment in Dubai
It has been 12 years since the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaasunleashed his concept of “the generic city,” a sprawling metropolis of repetitive buildings centered on an airport and inhabited by a tribe of global nomads with few local loyalties. His argument was that in its profound sameness, the generic city was a more accurate reflection of contemporary urban reality than nostalgic visions of New York or Paris.
Now he may get a chance to create his own version.
Designed for one of the biggest developers in the United Arab Emirates, Nakheel, Mr. Koolhaas’s master plan for the proposed 1.5-billion-square-foot Waterfront City in Dubai would simulate the density of Manhattan on an artificial island just off the Persian Gulf. A mix of nondescript towers and occasional bold architectural statements, it would establish Dubai as a center of urban experimentation as well as one of the world’s fastest growing metropolises.
The mixed-use project, startling in scale, is a carefully considered critique not just of the generic city but of a potentially greater evil: the growing use of high-end architecture as a tool for self-promotion. To Mr. Koolhaas this strategy, which many architects refer to as the Bilbao syndrome, reduces cities to theme parks of architectural tchotchkes that mask an underlying homogeneity.
His strategy is not to reject either trend outright but to locate each one’s hidden, untapped potential, or as he puts it, “to find optimism in the inevitable.”
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Copyright © 2010 Frank Cunha III.
Frank Cunha III – Architect & Visual Artist
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