History of Dubai and its Architecture

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One of seven semi-autonomous states within the United Arab Emirates called Dubai has turned out to be a rising force in the Middle East. Half a centaury ago Dubai was only a focal point were a few thousand weather stricken people somehow pushed and pulled their life ahead collecting picking dates, diving for pearls, or sailing in wooden dhows to trade with Iran and India, Dubai was as poor as any village in Somalia or the Sudan. It was in 1971 the six states namely Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Dubai, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, and Fujairah were united. And in1972 Ras Al-Khaimha joined the unification, The United Arab Emirates (UAE) were thus formally established with declaration from H.H Sheikh Zayed that the UAE was established as an Independent Nation with the aim of maintaining Independence, stability and co-operation.

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Dubai has a unique new exciting story of more than fifty years. The city has emerged from a poor fishing village to the fastest growing city in the world. Going back to the history, education was given priority in the different Emirates prior to the confederation. The Emirate of Dubai started educating it children in 1954. A few facts about the simplest basics of the country are men out number man in the male to female ratio of the country. All university tuitions are paid for by the states. All books stationary and study materials provided free of charge to the student. If the student works and studies, he/she is paid the salary for the job. From this, the business and infrastructure success story of Dubai is not hard to establish. ‘In the 1990s the three fastest growing cities in the world were Dublin, Las Vegas and Dubai. This has accelerated in the 21st century with 23% population growth in Dubai in the past four years. The present real estate boom is obvious enough, particularly in the Jebel Ali-Dubai corridor. Today Dubai is the trading, business and increasingly financial hub of the Middle East, and for parts of Africa, the CIS and even the Indian subcontinent. It’s a vast hinterland for such a small place’ (Peter J. Cooper 2006).

In the 1970s oil wealth turned the UAE from a desert kingdom to a modern metropolis, and its rulers took a keen interest in this development. Not for them the idleness and corruption that afflicted some nations blest with oil wealth. While the oil wealth can be considered as one of the reasons for the growth of Dubai, there are also other factors which could be considered as the key factors in developing the city state to be one of the best in the world. In Dubai the late Sheikh Rashid developed his tiny emirate into a trading hub with the timely development of port infrastructure and a driving ambition to invest oil wealth back into the local economy. Again this was sharply at variance with the policy of investing oil wealth abroad pursued in many countries (Peter J. Cooper 2006). In a yet another move towards the success, Dubai was to become the business and commercial hub of the Middle East. The Dubai Government and the leading local families invested even more into the physical infrastructure of the emirate and pursued more and more ambitious plans. ‘Surprisingly, to many observers, most of them succeeded, usually better than expected. Perhaps it was because the Government could act decisively, eliminating red-tape and shortening the planning process to a simple ‘build it there’ decision by the CEO of Dubai Inc. as Sheikh Mohammed is often known’ (Peter J. Cooper 2006).

The Modern History of Dubai in Brief

Within recorded history, Dubai started as a fishing village probably some time in the 18th century. It was a dependency of the sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi and its inhabitants were probably mostly Bani Yas. In 1833 a group of about 800 people of the Al Bu Falasah subsection of the Bani Yas seceded from Abu Dhabi and settled in Dubai. The leaders of the exodus, Ubaid bin Saeed and Maktoum bin Buti, remained joint leaders until the death of the former in 1836. Maktoum bin Buti ruled until he died in 1852, establishing the dynasty of the Al Maktoum rulers in Dubai. Maktoum and most of his successors usually followed a policy of good understanding with the British authorities in the Arabian Gulf (DTCM 2005).

The real history of Dubai begins in 1930 when settlement started and began momentum in growth. At that time neighboring Sharjah was the main trading centre on the Trucial Coast, and for the rest of the 19th century Dubai was simply a pearling village with a merchant community. In fact there were three distinct settlements around the Creek and one of them called Bur Dubai was an Arab fishing village on the western side. ‘The Dubai Creek provided one of the few safe anchorages along the southern coast of the Arabian Gulf and served as a haven for dhows despite its hazardous entrance. It was the starting and finishing point for pearling expeditions which, until the invention of cultured pearls in the 1930s, formed the main part of the economy after the 1820 British agreement prevented ship-building. The turn of the 19th century was considered the golden age of the pearl industry. Three thousand vessels were employed in the trade, leaving harbor in May and not returning until mid-September. Fishing, too, was an important occupation. The Arabian Gulf’s warm and shallow waters supported a wide variety of marine life and dhows were built on the foreshore of Dubai Creek’ (DTCM 2005). Dubai had sufficiently grown to attract settlers from the third world countries namely India, Iran and Baluchistan and so on.

The turn of 20th century saw Dubai becoming popular in the modern business world as safe and prosperous port. Dubai was very quick to establish itself as a natural heaven for merchants as the facilities for trade and free enterprises were great. ‘Meanwhile a flourishing Indian population was settling in Dubai and was particularly active in the shops and alleys of the souq. In fact a major factor in the growth of Dubai in the early post-war years was the re-export of gold to India. The cosmopolitan atmosphere and air of tolerance began to attract other foreigners too. Some years later the British made their centre on the coast, establishing a political agency in 1954’ (DTCM 2005).

However, being the most developed area in the region did not just provide for the adequate infrastructure of Dubai. In spite of the reputation Dubai had by the middle of the 20th century, the city just did not have enough roads, electricity, sewers or telephone. The infrastructure building had started in Dubai even before the discovery of oil in 1969, but once the revenue from the oil began to flow in the building process gained momentum. ‘Trade remained the foundation of the city’s wealth, whilst other projects were developed over the next 20 years. The airport became one of the busiest in the area, a large dry-dock complex was developed, the largest artificial port in the world was built at Jebel Ali and Dubai Aluminum Company (DUBAL), which has become one of the emirate’s largest non-oil related industry, came on-line in 1979’ (DTCM 2005).

Economic Sustainability through Tourism Industry

‘In the 1980s and early 1990s, Dubai took a strategic decision to emerge as a major international-quality tourism destination. Investments in tourism infrastructure have paid off handsomely over the years. Dubai is now a city that boasts unmatchable hotels, remarkable architecture and world-class entertainment and sporting events’ (Government f Dubai 2010). Dubai has undergone modernization and urbanization since the 1960s when the area was described as one of barren coastlands largely populated by nomadic tribes where the only occupations were fishing and pearling (Clements, 1998). The details of Dubai’s tourist arrivals right from the year 1982 shows the fact that the city has turned out to be one of the fastest growing destinations.

Stability in economic, social and political domains is essential for tourism as severe disturbance and volatility will deter many tourists, investors and the industry of tour operators and travel agents in generating countries. Dubai is part of the UAE and conditions there are shaped by both federation and emirate governments (Joan C. Henderson 2006). ‘Income from oil made Abu Dhabi the economic powerhouse and financier of the federation, providing the smaller emirates with a standard of living and degree of security that would otherwise be unavailable to them. The other emirates meanwhile provide Abu Dhabi with a demographic and geographic collective strength that it would lack acting alone’ (EIU, 2005a, p. 5). Dubai now began to act as the financial and commercial nexus of Gulf. The successful economic returns from the investment made on tourism in any country depend on the convenience of transport mainly the access through air. Dubai has done every thing to be an air transport hub. The home airline company called emirates flies very long routes to almost all the countries and destinations of the world. The company helps to bring tourist from the far away places such as fifteen hour rout to Sao Paulo, then seventeen hour trips to Los angels and San Francisco, then the fourteen hour flight to Sydney. It also flies to most of the major cities in Europe which provides Dubai with a lot of tourists. It flies to all the major cities to Africa, Middle East and South Asia. Most importantly all this routs are being extremely profitable (Jim Krane 2009).

A US$4.1 billion upgrading is underway which will enable the airport to handle 40 million passengers by 2010 and 100 million by 2025 (Matthews, 2003). Owning the largest Arab Airline Emirates has made it possible for the government of Dubai to succeed in developing and maintaining stable inputs to its economy. ‘Accounts of Dubai usually comment on the partiality of officials and developers for the ostentatious, which is manifest in accommodation projects and attractions such as the US$5 billion Dubailand theme park. This will occupy two billion square feet of land and take 15 years to complete under the aegis of the Dubai Tourism Development Company (DTDC), an operating arm of the Dubai Development and Investment Authority (DDIA). The stated purpose is to make Dubai the ‘ultimate fun and leisure centre of the Middle East’ augmenting the supply of indoor attractions, which are independent of weather and have all year round appeal to multiple markets, not least families with children. In another illustration, Ski Dubai opened in 2005 within the Mall of the Emirates, reportedly the largest shopping space outside of the USA, and sells skiing and snow related pursuits in a ‘winter wonderland’ of sub-zero temperatures. The Crown Prince has said that only 10% of his visions for Dubai have been enacted, implying other such ambitious ventures are likely’ (Joan C. Henderson 2006).

An Unparallel Workforce

Another reason for Dubai to be on the top in terms of infrastructural growth and development is its unmatched workforce which gets the least contribution from the locale flock. ‘Numbers may be keys to the nature of Dubai’s workforce and its economy. According to a 2005 government report, 97.13 per cent of Dubai’s total labour force is foreign. The second number – mostly likely unknown – is the percentage of those foreign workers who have come to regard Dubai as home or would like to make it their permanent home. Many of these expats came to Dubai 15 to 20 years ago for a two-year stint, liked it and stayed. The third number, also from the government, is that only five per cent of Emiratis are employed in the private sector’ (Rod Monger 2007). Almost every one in a company, starting from the administrative level to the last one on the lower level labor, is imported and the positive aspect of this phenomenon is the advantage Dubai gets on molding its workforce in a way the city needed with the lowest cost. At the same time, the work force of Dubai is an enthusiastic lot, it growing in terms of loyalty and commitment, in spite of the fact that they are treated with substandard facilities for the cost control (Jim Krane 2009). This commitment had played an important part in making the city look one of the best destinations in the world.

Building Landmarks

The Chicago Beach Hotel, which continuously recorded 80% occupancy in consecutive years, was a money making machine in Dubai in 1990s. British engineering firm called W.S Atkins forwarded a proposal for another beachfront hotel to be named as the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. The company was given permission to proceed with the project which had to include a tower too on approval. The company has hired an architect named Tom Wright who hardly had any experience in building hotels. But as thoughtful as he is Tom new that the Sheikh needed something tall and iconic, discussing on this concept he came up with a giant arch in the Islamic style. Sketching it out, the drawings showed a huge sail shaped building of 1300 feet tall, ‘jutting from the sea floor waves lapping at its base. The building leaned over the sea and a cable car ran from shore to its peak. The other access came from an undersea tunnel. The structure was more Iconic than demanded but it was impossible. Wright straightened it up moved it from seafloor to a small man made island and traded the cable car for helipad. A causeway bridge replaced the tunnel. They scaled back the height to a thousand feet’ (Jim Krane 2009).

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The work began in 1994. When people thought of it as a new Beach Hotel, to the Sheikh the iconic building was much more than that. The tower was the symbol of his pride as an Arab. The building was to be ‘The Tower of the Arab’- Burj Al Arab. The budget was unlimited, even when Sheikh Mohammad knew that the hotel will never pay for itself. He never let that scope of profit cramp the concept of Burj li Arab. The idea of locating the building on a man-made island was thought over again by the Sheikh. He imagined it both on island and mainland. The Island was much more time consuming and costly where as there was nothing unique about it is being located in the mainland. At last Sheikh opted for it to be in the Island (Kim Krane 2009). By 1999 Burj was a wonder around the world. The sight of the blue and white tower is a mind-blowing sight. Burj Al Arab turned out to be exactly what the sheikh Mohammad wanted an icon easily recognizable. Burj attracted quiet a lot of tourist who would spend lavishly. Moreover, a genius series of promotion followed like Andre Agassi and Roger Federer were found whacking volleys on the helipad. Later on Tiger Woods drove ball from the same spot. Tourism made up nearly a quarter of the city’s economy $ 8 billion in 2006. The Emirates aim is to host nearly 15 million tourists a year by 2015 (Tim Krane 2009). Though the economic scenario at large indicates that goal may fall a little short of. The growth and success of Dubai is undeniable.

Burj Dubai

There was already a hand full of building and a formidable infrastructure when the Burj Dubai project came up. But the Wlter Landors believed in their own guiding principle that “Products are made in the factory, but brands are made in the mind.” At this point, the “product” didn’t exist. Still they invited prospective bidders to experience the brand. ‘They fashioned a multisensory presentation centre, wrote books and designed websites, had invitations etched, fragrances con­cocted, and parties thrown. A blazing Dubai sun finally rose on the first day for apartment bids. There was no second day. In less than 24 hours, every apartment-to-be was spoken for, netting more than half a billion dollars. Even by the heady standards of the region, the branding of the Burj Dubai was off to an exceptional start’ (Landor 2008). Emmar had it in mind through the project of Burj Dubai not only the city but the entire region which is often neglected by the media, was going to be in the limelight. There was a sophisticated linear approach that was extended into a comprehensive design style to reinforce the brand’s concept of pre-eminence. The word mark, typography, look and feel, voice and imagery, and even colour palette reflect prestige. In contrast to the over-the-top golds and bright colors prevalent in other Dubai premier develop-ments, Landor chose understated tones echoing the buildings’ finishes of stainless steel and aluminum and set them off with a sharp green accent inspired by the carpenters’ levels found in the hands of hundreds of architects, engineers, and craftspeople building the tower (Landor 2008). The project basically was a multi-use development tower with a total floor area of 460,000 square meters that includes residential, hotel, commercial, office, entertainment, shopping, leisure, and parking facilities. The project was designed to be the centerpiece of the large scale Burj Dubai Development that rises into the sky to an unprecedented height that exceeds 700 meters and that consists of more than 160 floors (Ahmad Abdelrazaq 2008).

At the turn of the century no one really had thought about such a construction. Coming from a city were the construction industry was in the infancy, the Burj Dubai project has shown to the world that tall building system development is always directly related to the latest developments in material technologies, structural engineering theories, wind engineering, seismic engineering, computer technologies, and construction methods. The Burj Dubai project capitalizes on advancements in these technologies, advancing the development of super tall buildings and the art of structural engineering (Ahmad Abdelrazaq 2008).

The Booming Growth Is Boosted

In the year 2000, the Burj Al Arab was already being a host to the excited wealthy tourist from around the world. The Arab nation was still overwhelmed in the amazing aesthetics of the new construction, the world witnessed one of its toughest times. The economy at large shuddered under heavy recessions. The money burning dotcom companies ran out of cash and went out of business. Gulf foreign investors were holding crumpling assets and in the west and around the world. Adding to the economic back drop of the US, nineteen Arabs crashed passengers jets into the World Trade Centre, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. This caused the US stock market a further down slide. The newly elected president George W. Bush who found himself in the white house with disputed elections consoled the people America saying the terrorists might have been successfully shaken the foundations of some of the mightiest structures in the United states, but they would never succeed in shaking the foundations of the mightiest nation on the face of the earth. Still the fact remains true that the nation has not yet abated the fear and economic worry the September 11 attack has brought upon the nation. The post September 11 United States was not an ideal place for investing as far as the Arabs were concerned. On the contrary, in Dubai, September 11 attack started the beginning of the years long economic boom. In fact the attack played a role in boosting this economic investment and viability in the gulf region. The rage toward Arabs in America increased and the country fought many wars after. The Arabs who had invested in US pulled back billions of dollars and send back to their Home country. No one was interested and dared to invest in country which was at war.

Cash poured into Dubai, as the reports say before September 11 attacks as much as $25 billion a year was put into US investment. Where as, the figures came down to just $1.2 billion between 2001 and 2003. Most of the missing money has been made to play itself in Dubai where the potential was felt to be very high. Further, in 2001 Dubai’s urban area was a narrow strip along the sea shore. By 2008 Dubai was almost as big as Huston. With man made Island rising from the sea and constructions sprawling deep into the desert.

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The Two Fold Advantage of Dubai’s labor market Outsourcing

Dubai is not a city with immense industrial infrastructure. This diverse multicultural city has an international community of almost 1.5 million people from about 170 nations. This committed workforce contributes to the growing economy which mainly derives from trade, manufacturing and mainly tourism. The strategy of labor market outsourcing helps the third world countries just as it help their own country. When many rich nations claim to be in the business of economic development, they seldom let poor nations to play by the same rules that richer countries use to promote growth.

Above all, going back to the beauty and uniqueness of Dubai, Dubai is a modern costal city located at the heart of the Middle East. It is charming and sophisticated; ‘the beautiful Burj Al Arab hotel presiding over the coastline of Jumeira beach is the world’s only hotel with a seven star rating. The Emirates Towers are one of the many structures that remind us of the commercial confidence in a city that expands at a remarkable rate. Standing 350 meters high, the office tower is the tallest building in the Middle East and Europe. Dubai also hosts major international sporting events. The Dubai Desert Classic is a major stop on the Professional Golf Association tour. The Dubai Open, an ATP tennis tournament, and the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race, draw thousands every year’ (Government of Dubai 2010).


  • Ahmad Abdelrazaq (2008) Brief on Construction Planning of the Burj Dubai Project’ CTBUH 8th world congress.
  • Clements F. (1998). United Arab Emirates. Clio Press: Oxford.
  • DTCM (2005), Dubai-Modern History; Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
  • EIU. 2005a. United Arab Emirates Country Profile 2005. The Economist Intelligence Unit: London.
  • Government of Dubai (2010) Dubai History; The official Portal of Dubai Government http://www.dubai.ae/en.portal?topic,Article_000240,0,&_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=home
  • Joan C. Henderson (2006) Tourism in Dubai: Overcoming Barriers Destination Development Nanyang Business School, Nanyang technological University. Singapore.
  • Peter J. Cooper (2006), Why Dubai?: Anatomy of a Business Success story. AME Info; the Ultimate Middle East Business resource.
  • Jim Krane (2009) The Story of the world’s Fastest City: Atlantic ISBN 9781848870086 Landor (2008) Burj Dubai the Building of an Icon; Landor Associates, April 2008.
  • Mathews N. 2003. Expansion spree: airports in the Middle East will be building new runways and terminals through 2015. Aviation Week and Space Technology 159(22): 42.
  • Rod Monger (2007) Sculpting Dubai’s Workforce; Special to Gulf News http://gulfnews.com/business/features/sculpting-dubai-s-workforce-1.171750


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