Building for a better tomorrow
Gulf nation puts its wealth into high-profile and innovative infrastructure projects aimed at attracting local and international business. Reports by Ed Peters
Never mind the concept of time standing still - it rarely even pauses for breath in the United Arab Emirates, a powerhouse of economic activity which has developed in the past couple of decades. The UAE's open economy, high per-capita income - around US$29,000 - and a sizeable annual trade surplus have combined to make it one of the world's great commercial success stories.
And the UAE has not been slow to invest some of its wealth in high-profile infrastructure projects. Next year should see the opening of the Dubai Opera, a 2,000-seat, multiformat performing arts centre which is shaped like a dhow, the region's traditional fishing vessel. Using the latest hydraulic technology, 900 seats can be removed so the building can be transformed from a concert hall to an exhibition space in a matter of minutes.
Such a project is typical of Dubai's far-sighted, can-do attitude, and other construction projects continue at a rapid pace. More of an industrial concern, Dubai Investments Park (DIP) has spent over 4 billion dirham (HK$8.4 billion) in the last 17 years to build and improve its infrastructure. DIP now hosts 140km of internal road networks, a highly-sustainable power and water supply, a well-connected telecommunications network that meets the latest global standards, district cooling services across the entire business park, and 130km of freshwater supply networks for irrigation and firefighting.
"DIP's world-class infrastructure and road network enables connectivity to the regional and international transport linkages which grant it speedy access to potential markets in the neighbouring emirates and the wider region," says Dr Ahmed Elbeshlawy, economic analyst at the UAE's consulate in Hong Kong. "This makes DIP an ideal investment destination for local and international businesses."
The infrastructural growth within DIP continues to transform the business park into a self-contained city within a city. This complements DIP's strategic location and proximity to Jebel Ali Port, Al Maktoum International Airport, and the business districts and arterial roads, making it one of the most sought-after developments for tenants and businesses. At present, DIP is home to about 90,000 people and six schools accommodating more than 5,700 students.
Other parts of the city are experiencing significant changes too. Plans to build hundreds of flats and offices above Dubai's busiest metro station are going ahead, and the Roads and Transport Authority plans to issue tenders in May. Dubbed Union Oasis, the tower project will rise above Union Station in the district of Deira. It will be the first of its kind in the region, encouraging more people to use the rail system and to bring more businesses and homes to old Dubai.
The exact size of the towers and their precise usage will be left to developers to determine in their bids. Deira's location close to Dubai International Airport will probably mean that the buildings are unlikely to be more than 30 storeys high. The size of the plot is also likely to mean that the scheme is restricted to three or four towers.
Historical parts of the city such as Deira, long a thriving centre of Dubai, have struggled to compete with swanky developments in the newer parts of the city, prompting an exodus by richer inhabitants. However, Union Oasis is expected to reverse the trend.
Finally, Dubai claimed yet another Guinness world record in January following the completion of the world's largest vertical maze. The 55-storey Maze Tower, located in the heart of the financial district, features an eye-catching front and rear facade of balconies that form an intricate maze.
"It is because of such innovative projects that Dubai has earned itself the reputation of being at the forefront of design and development," Elbeshlawy says. "The maze itself is not just a random pattern, but a real puzzle. The design uses the changing level of natural light and shadow during the day, as well as natural Brazilian verde bahia stone, to create a striking façade."
The Maze Tower also hosts the Maze Eye, an eight-metre circular video wall at the top of the building which can beam images great distances. The maze pattern can be lit up in different colours, and there is also a garden floor in the middle of the building and a rooftop maze garden.