Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mike Davis: Evil Paradise -- An Artist's Vision of Dubai in the Future

(This essay is from 2005, but I dug it up to put it into play with Ron Sherer's Why Debt at Dubai World Is Shaking World Financial Markets)

Evil Paradise: An Artist's Vision of Dubai in the Future
by Mike Davis
Socialist Review

Mike Davis asks if the road to the future ends at Dubai.

The narration begins: As your jet starts its descent, you are glued to your window. The scene below is astonishing - a 24 square mile archipelago of coral-coloured islands in the shape of an almost finished puzzle of the world. In the shallow green waters between continents, the sunken shapes of the Pyramids of Giza and the Roman Coliseum are clearly visible. In the distance are three other large island groups configured as palms within crescents, and planted with high-rise resorts, amusement parks and a thousand mansions built on stilts over the water. The 'Palms' are connected by causeways to a Miami-like beachfront chock-full of mega-hotels, apartment high-rises and yacht marinas.

As the plane slowly banks toward the desert mainland, you gasp at the even more improbable vision ahead. Out of a chrome forest of skyscrapers (nearly a dozen taller than 1,000 feet) soars a new Tower of Babel. It is an impossible half mile high: the equivalent of the Empire State Building stacked on top of itself.

You are still rubbing your eyes with wonderment and disbelief when the plane lands and you are welcomed into an airport emporium where hundreds of shops seduce you with Gucci bags, Cartier watches and one-kilogram bars of solid gold. The hotel driver is waiting for you in a Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph. Friends have recommended the Armani Hotel in the 160-storey tower or the seven-star hotel with an atrium so huge that the Statue of Liberty would fit inside, but instead you have opted to fulfil a childhood fantasy. You always have wanted to be Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Your jellyfish-shaped hotel is, in fact, exactly 66 feet below the sea surface. Each of its 220 luxury suites has clear plexiglas walls that provide spectacular views of passing mermaids as well as the hotel's famed 'underwater fireworks' - a hallucinatory exhibition of 'water bubbles, swirled sand, and carefully deployed lighting'. Any initial anxiety about the safety of your sea-bottom resort is dispelled by the smiling concierge. The structure has a multi-level failsafe security system, he reassures you, that includes protection against terrorist submarines as well as missiles and aircraft.

Although you have an important business meeting at the internet city free-trade zone with clients from Hyderabad and Taipei, you have arrived a day early to treat yourself to one of the famed adventures at the Restless Planet dinosaur theme park. Indeed, after a soothing night's sleep under the sea, you are aboard a monorail headed for a Jurassic jungle. Your expedition encounters some peacefully grazing Apatosaurs, but you are soon attacked by a nasty gang of velociraptors. The animatronic beasts are so flawlessly lifelike - in fact, they have been designed by experts from the British Natural History Museum - that you shriek in fear and delight.

You polish off the afternoon with some thrilling snowboarding on the local black diamond run. Next door is the Mall of Arabia, the world's largest mall - the altar of the city's famed Shopping Festival that attracts 5 million frenetic consumers each January - but you postpone the temptation. Instead you indulge in some expensive Thai fusion cuisine at a restaurant near Elite Towers that was recommended by your hotel driver. The Russian woman at the bar keeps staring at you with almost vampire-like hunger, and you wonder whether the local sin scene is as extravagant as the shopping...

The Sequel to Blade Runner?

Welcome to paradise. But where are you? Is this a new science fiction novel from Margaret Atwood, the sequel to Blade Runner or Donald Trump tripping on acid? No, it is the Persian Gulf city-state of Dubai in 2010. After Shanghai (current population 15 million), Dubai (current population 1.5 million) is the world's biggest building site - an emerging dreamworld of conspicuous consumption and what locals dub 'supreme lifestyles'.

To Read the Rest of the Essay


Contextual Musings pointed me toward these latest architectural monstrosities planned for Dubai:

Dubai's Moving Skyscraper "Dynamic Tower" Planned For 2010

1 comment:

The Victor Show said...

That's an interesting and likely correct take on the prince's interest in architecture.