Showpiece City
How Architecture Made Dubai
Todd Reisz


Contents and Abstracts
Prologue: Here's a Plan
chapter abstract

The prologue establishes the themes and kinds of characters present in the rest of the book. An introduction is given to the British architect whose work and career in Dubai provide the historical lens through which to examine Dubai's twentieth-century expansion. For his work to have made an impact, a stage had to be set by colonial officers, engineers, and contractors.

1 Bustle
chapter abstract

In 1954, the British government opened political offices in Dubai. The chapter establishes both the continuity and change the move represented, in relation to the British intervention reaching back at least to 1819. Dubai and its port are portrayed as how one would have been experienced them in the mid-1950s. More information is given over the political dynamics at hand in Dubai at the time, shaped by the British government, the ruling Maktoum family, and a somewhat organized faction of Dubai's wealthiest merchants. The second political agent, Peter Tripp, founds the Trucial States Development Office as a means to prompt visible change that appealed to all three parties.

2 Landscapes for Production
chapter abstract

Chapter 2 focuses on two of Peter Tripp's efforts to produce the visible changes on Dubai's urban landscape that would convince all parties involved to become further invested. He first organized the arrival of an Iraqi "municipal expert," Abdul Salam Er Raouf , who was Dubai's first foreign consultant paid for by the ruler. The second effort was his writing the initial script for a propaganda film about Dubai and the other Trucial States (These Are the Trucial States). The film follows the various development programs Tripp had struggled to get going. In contrast to reality, he portrayed them in the film treatment as active and successful, so that they might come true. His efforts to focus on photogenic development projects were trumped by a recently begun effort to reinforce Dubai's harbor.

3 Hardened Edges
chapter abstract

Based on British-government documents, the chapter links the travels and ordeals of a group of stateless pilgrims who arrive in the Trucial States with the start of a significant engineering scheme on Dubai's harbor, which landed the city's leader in perilous debt. As with millions after them, the pilgrims sought economic gain based upon the stories of Dubai's profitable future. Dubai's most significant infrastructure project to date was financed by Sheikh Rashid's becoming a significant debtor. The British engineering firm Halcrow began its long and profitable career in manipulating Dubai's landscape for economic gain.

4 Taking Measures: 1960 Dubai Town Plan
chapter abstract

Dubai's third political agent, Donald Hawley, convinces Dubai's ruler to hire a town planner, perhaps based on his discussion with British architect John Harris in London. The chapter examines how the British government defined the importance of a town plan and how that interest did not seem to take into account the established professional tradition in urban planning in London. After a jumbled selection process, John Harris is selected to create Dubai's first town plan. He produces the plan in 1960 after a nine-day stay in the city. Through an alternative history, the town plan's unadopted prescriptions are explored. The proposal immediately faces opposition within the British government but ultimately is carried out by the team of experts Hawley has assembled in Dubai.

5 Piecemeal: Al Maktoum Hospital
chapter abstract

Al Maktoum Hospital predated British architect John Harris's arrival in Dubai; however, even before completing the town plan, he was preparing proposals for the complex's expansion. Before Dubai's hospital, he had already been commissioned to complete multimillion-dollar hospitals in Qatar and Kuwait. His budget for Dubai was a mere fraction of the others. Harris's plan for the hospital, completed before the funding was even near to be confirmed, was as much about providing health care as about announcing the city as a salutary place. As early as 1960, Dubai's leadership was well aware of the broadcasted potential of even the most basic of hospitals.

6 Crispness: National Bank of Dubai
chapter abstract

After having worked on Al Maktoum Hospital with a muddled set of stakeholders, the new headquarters for the recently founded National Bank of Dubai provides Harris with a clear client and a confirmed and ready budget. The chapter examines the bank building's facade, interiors, and location on Dubai Creek as statements about Dubai's economic aspirations. The chapter also explores the connections between the bank's operations and how they interact with the wooden ships and the gold trade headed to India and Pakistan. Just as important as the eventual presence of oil wealth were the profits Dubai's traders garnered from gold. It provided them the liquidity to push Dubai's building boom.

7 Health City: Rashid Hospital
chapter abstract

John Harris acquired the commission for Rashid Hospital upon the confirmation of Dubai's offshore petroleum. It was part of a £60 million infrastructure development campaign that followed the verification of Dubai's petroleum hopes. Its budget came from a British-sourced merchant loan signed on the future earnings from oil. For this hospital project, Harris improved upon his design delivery systems. Working in intense coordination with dozens of British consultants and manufacturers, Harris, alongside his quantity surveyor, aimed to create an apparatus for delivering efficient and technologically advanced hospitals. Sheikh Rashid made nearly annual trips to London, which included a visit to a model hospital. In London, Rashid was bombarded by experts and purveyors elbowing for his attention. London was presented to him as an assembly of parts, a catalogue of items that he could purchase for Dubai's growth and advancement.

8 Future Flyovers: 1971 Dubai Development Plan
chapter abstract

There was little time between confirmation of Dubai's petroleum reserves and the disappointment in their limited quantity. Also adding to Dubai's troubles was the unilateral decision by the British government to cease its political and military intervention in Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates. Dubai's liminal place outside the nation-state structure was coming to an end as it became part of the United Arab Emirates. In preparation for the expected changes, Harris urged the Dubai Municipality to commission a second master plan. Harris delivered the new plan in 1971, months before the British departure and the creation of the new nation. Whereas urban plans are often created to project a city's coherence and stability, the city's leaders found no time to pursue either.

9 All in All: Dubai World Trade Centre
chapter abstract

The Dubai World Trade Centre, especially its tower, was the most prominent work that Harris completed in Dubai. This building by British architect John Harris still exists in Dubai today, in recognizable form. The decision to pursue the city's tallest tower and to locate it at the inland edge of Port Rashid underscored Sheikh Rashid's pursuit of a new city beyond Dubai Creek. The project was not part of the first raft of post–oil-discovery projects; by the time of its completion, the city's aspirations had shifted, from centering around Port Rashid to stretching toward Dubai's most expensive infrastructure project, Port Jebel Ali. The chapter's coverage of the British queen's visit explores how the tower, its construction, and its audacity were made ready to accommodate any demand in order to sell Dubai as the region's "natural" business hub.

Epilogue: Storylines
chapter abstract

One of the last architectural commissions during Sheikh Rashid's reign is the Ruler's Office, which John Harris's firm secured through a design competition. It is markedly different from previous designs by Harris. For that reason, it suits our closing consideration of a city after its feverish preparation for oil wealth and its constant marketing as the region's future center. The World Trade Centre opened in the midst of an economic slump, and hopes remained dim through the early 1980s, during the diwan's construction. The project reveals the new bureaucratic reality determining Dubai's physical landscape and the additional expectations being set for future projects. More than any building before it by Harris's firm, the ruler's diwan makes explicit references to historical forms and structures; meanwhile, the actual buildings to which the new government quarters referred were being demolished.