Dubai’s Changing Skyline

Dubai Bus Stop with Burj Khalifa in the background

As the sign says

Dubai is

A map that gets updated every day.”

One afternoon, the Burj Khalifa is there and the next morning …

Burj Khalifa blasting off into space. Photo by Mojo in April 2012.

It blasts off to parts unknown.


Beauty at the Burgerland Roundabout

Burgerland Roundabout

“In a sense, all the contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty.

The media are becoming the global mirror and the shows tend to enshrine the ugly as the normal standard.  Beauty is mostly forgotten and made to seem naïve and romantic.

The blindness of property development creates rooms, buildings and suburbs which lack grace and mystery.  Socially this influences the atmosphere in the community.  It also results in the degradation of the environment that we are turning more and more of our beautiful earth into a wasteland.

Much of the stress and emptiness that haunts us can be traced back to our lack of attention to beauty.  Internally, the mind becomes coarse and dull if it remains unvisited by images and thoughts which hold the radiance of beauty.

Beauty offers us an invitation to order, coherence and unity.  When these needs are met, the soul feels at home in the world.”

–          John O’Donohue from Beauty The Invisible Embrace

Racing towards Jidhafs the other morning, I was frustrated when I missed the green light.  But as I slowed I saw this new mural painted on the side of the house.

Instantly my heart lifted.   No longer did I need to hurry.  I was surprised how how peaceful I felt as I waited for the light to change.  And I was struck by the power of Beauty.

Thank you Romantic Moments for bringing some Beauty to the Burgerland roundabout.

And thank you John O’Donohue for so eloquently articulating why we need Beauty in our lives.  His book Beauty The Invisible Embrace : Rediscovering the True Source of Compassion Serenity and Hope is “a gentle, urgent call to awaken.”

Who will Prevail? – Mother Nature or the Desert Sheikhs

View of area next to Dubai Mall from Burj Khalifa

Dubai reminds me of Las Vegas – without the gambling.  From the desert’s blank slate ambitious people employed modern engineering and literally created a fanciful world reminiscent of Arrakeen from the Dune series.

After years of going to Dubai for “events” and shopping, during my artist sister and mother’s visit, I finally went against traffic and followed Sheik Zayed Road to its origin at the Dubai Creek.  Two-story floating palaces anchored along the corniche’s edge reminded me of the Nile River cruisers.  Reaching the water, our taxi turned left and followed the Al Seef Road to its end at the wrought iron gates of the Ruler’s Court.

Arabian Horse outside Bastikiya Dubai

The road veered left, past the painted Arabian horse to the first roundabout. There on the right is Bastikiya.

Wind Tower House in Bastikiya, Dubai, 2012

Bastikiya is a restored village previously inhabited by the Persian pearl and textile traders.  It is one of the last remaining historical neighborhoods in Dubai.  Compared to the tourist filled Dubai Mall with its dancing fountains, aquarium, 1,200 stores and view of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, Bastikiya felt like a ghost town.  But what it lacks in excitement the small village made up for in its artist charm and peacefulness.

Alley pathway between houses in Bastikiya Dubai

The old-Dubai architecture is similar to Bahrain.  Tiny alleys between mud houses with palm-frond roofs (barasti) are a kind of human warren built as a fortress against the desert.  Most houses had a central courtyard.  Larger houses also incorporated wind towers.

Wind tower were natural air conditioners that took advantage of ocean breezes.

Tallest wind tower in Yazd, Iran

Brought to the Gulf by Persian immigrants, wind towers date back to the fourth millennium BCE in Iran and are found in central and southern Iranian deserts.  There are several types of wind towers including a style built over a cellar or an underground reservoir.  The evaporating water cooled the air and the inside of the house.

Windtower Shutters in Muharraq, Bahrain

Equipped with shutters, the tower could be opened from any of the four sides.  Depending on the wind’s direction, the shutters were opened to capture the wind and directed it to the sitting rooms below.

Windtower House. Inside sitting room. Muharraq, Bahrain

In Bahrain most of the old houses with wind towers have disappeared.  A few Muharraq wind tower houses have been preserved by the Sheikh Ebrahim Center for Culture and Research.  La Fontaine Center for Contemporary Art, a restored private home, has a wind tower.

Perhaps someday in the future, this tiny village using traditional desert architecture with thick mud walls and wind towers will be the last building standing in Dubai.   Only time will tell.

What Looks After You

A Castle Built in our Neighborhood

Knowledge is better than wealth.  You have to look after wealth;

knowledge looks after you.

– Ali


From Indries Shah, The Way of the Sufi

Lessons from the Najd – How to Live in a Sandstorm

Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Sa'ud's Farm

As we are the middle of a sandstorm, I changed my theory.  I think walls around Middle Eastern houses help to keep the desert from taking over the front yard.

Living in an older section of the island, our compound is surrounded by a wall.  Inside we hardly notice the sandstorms.  But many of my friends have moved out to the new golf development in the middle of the desert.  Designed to appeal to westerners, neither the houses nor the development have perimeter walls.  My friends are complaining the sand is piling up in mini-dunes around their homes and they cannot open their windows with all the swirling sand.

Several years ago Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Sa’ud invited Mojo to his renovated, al-Udhaibat farm outside of Riyadh.  The farm retained its traditional Najdi architecture which enabled people to live in the desert before electricity.

One key aspect was to surround the house with palm trees.  The palms acted as natural barriers against the sand.  The air was cooled as it swept through the shaded areas under the palms.  Upon reaching the garden, walls kept any remaining dust and sand from entering the house.

Courtyard and airflow

Besides surrounding the house with walls, central courtyards are a key feature of these mud houses.  The wind passing over creates a low-pressure zone in the courtyard.  This sucks in eddies but the low-pressure is counteracted by well-placed apertures in the rooms into the courtyard.

During the night, the courtyard and roof act as a cool air sink.

During the day, the sun heats the courtyard.  Warm air rises creating a chimney effect and pulls breeze through the rooms.

In the evening, the courtyard and buildings retain heat then give it off as the night air cools.

As I think about our impact on the desert whether as an eco-tourist or a westerner living in the desert, I find William Facey’s BACK TO EARTH: ADOBE BUILDING IN SAUDI ARABIA to be a very enlightening study of traditional Arab architecture and its effect on the environment.

All photos and images are from this book.

Sleeping on the Job

It is the customary in the Middle East to build high concrete walls around a house.  The walls help keep the desert outside and give women privacy to walk around their homes without having to be covered.  Even though guards are employed to open and shut the gate, I think, generally, security is not an issue.

Which is good – since some of the guards are sleeping.


Tales by Chapter

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