THOUGHTS: (Un)Productive Glory

In The Accursed Share, George Bataille states that “In former times value was given to unproductive glory, whereas in our day it is measured in terms of production: Precedence is given to energy acquisition over energy expenditure. Glory itself is justified by the consequences of a glorious deed in the sphere of utility.1 Therefore, according to Bataille, a city such as modern day Dubai, while professing to be progressing rapidly into the future, is philosophically regressing into the past.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates is a nation with a unique, yet incredibly short history. It has grown from a small city of around 20,000 people during World War II to a booming metropolis of more than 1 million today. It is projected that by the year 2010 the population will reach 1.4 million. Since the discovery of oil off its coast in the early 1960’s, Dubai has developed into a nation with a higher GDP than many developed European countries. Understanding that oil is a limited resource (estimated to last no more than 100 years), Dubai has turned towards becoming an international trade center, global business hub and a unique tourist destination. Massive land reclamation projects have begun to emerge along the shores of the Persian Gulf, radically transforming the coastline. The question is: who will benefit from the expenditure of energy involved in the construction of projects such as The Palm, The World, The Burj and Dubai Business Bay and more importantly at what cost? It is inevitable that waste or expenditure of energy by one nation, city or group often comes at the expense of another. While Dubai has learned to walk a fine line between globalization and its local traditions, the ruling monarchy and the swelling population, the substantial yet limited income from oil and the newly developing tourism industry, the population of UAE nationals and the large presence of ex-patriots, it has not found a way to balance the staggering development with any significant architectural impact. With little to no planning, buildings are popping up faster than roads, sewer lines, and necessary infrastructure can be established. If one accepts the fact that, “architecture can be understood as a material organization that regulates and brings order to energy flows, and, simultaneously and inseparably, as an energetic organization that stabilizes and maintains material forms2, than it is reasonable to suggest that Architecture should benefit just as much as the wealthy investors that have flocked to Dubai. After all, isn’t a country with 16% of the world’s cranes, 160 billion dollars of ongoing construction, and no project takes longer than two years to complete an architects dream come true? The fact is that it might be if this ‘transient city’ (as it is called by some residents) is able to dig into the desert and grow some roots. Given the difficulty of growing anything in sand, Dubai is importing everything from palm trees, to grass, to rocks, to – you guessed it – dirt. Much can be said about the ‘Disnification’ of Dubai and how much or little it has ‘Learned from Las Vegas’. As the competition plows ahead to crown the world’s tallest building, the world’s largest land reclamation project, the world’s largest port, the world’s most advanced airport, the world’s first underwater hotel; it is time for architects to stop complaining from the sidelines, and to start participating in what could be a land of unprecedented opportunity. 1. Bataille, Georges, The Accursed Share: an Essay on General Economy, New York: Zone Books, 1988. 2. Fernandez-Galiano, Luis, Fire and Memory: On Architecture and Energy, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

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