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From coral to concrete: Dubai’s architectural evolution

While Dubai is famous for the elegant, contemporary designs of its towering glass and steel skyscrapers, a closer look will reveal older buildings dotted around the city amidst the high-rises.

Over the last six decades there has been a shift from using coral to construct buildings to steel, but many traditional mud and coral houses are still found on the outskirts of the city.

The architectural evolution of Dubai eludes to the Emirate’s rapid expansion and growth, with each new style of building marking a significant step towards the glitzy metropolitan city pictured in travel brochures.

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“It's incredible what has been built in such a short period of time,” architect Richard Wagner, who gives tours as part of The Guiding Architects, told Al Arabiya. “We can reflect on them to say there were four major phases. There was the early phase of Dubai, before the founding of the nations in 1971, then after the founding all the way into the ‘90s.

“In the 2000s there was the initiation of development phase number one, a big boom which lasted up until the financial crisis in 2009,” he added. “2014 was the announcement of Expo 2020 and I think that's when the current phase started, which I call it Boom 2.0.”

Around the 1890s, Dubai was still mostly desert, with small settlements along the coastline for fishing and pearl diving and the creek for trade. Now known as the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, the area once known as Al Bastakiya showcases the oldest buildings in Dubai, built from mud plaster and coral.

The area was named after the Persian merchants from Bastak who visited the creek for trade, settled, and built houses in the Bastak style – narrow, high-ceilinged courtyard houses with wind towers – which the UAE later adopted.

“Whatever coral they had, they would cut it into pieces, stack it up and plaster is afterwards,” Wagner said. “There were hardly any windows on the outside. All of the light came in from the courtyard on the inside. The outer part of the building is very narrow because it was limited to the length of the longest wood that you would find locally, typically some kind of a date palm tree or mangrove tree.”

With the discovery of oil and subsequent founding of the UAE in the 1970s, things began to change significantly. In the 1980s, half of Al Bastakiya was demolished for more modern developments.

In 1989, the Dubai Municipality decided that the remaining half would also be demolished, but British architect Rayner Otter’s heritage preservation campaign resulted in the Al Fahidi district transformation instead.

“[Otter] took one of the old houses, renovated it, and showed the Emiratis the scope of what you can do with these beautiful courtyard houses,” Wagner said. “It was really that initiative that helped preserve these houses.

“They recreated an urban street area as it was back in the 1920s until maybe the 1950s,” he added. They're all based on photographic records from the 1920s onwards, which they analyzed and modeled the area after.”

In other parts of Dubai in the ‘90s to the early 2000s, the city was beginning to expand, elevating its skyline with taller buildings. Dubai was put on the tourist map with the construction of Burj Al Arab, and all of sudden appeared alongside the iconic images of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

Government-created development companies built most of the major modern real estate projects of Dubai. Nakheel was given offshore projects, such as creating the Palm Jumeirah and The World Islands. Emaar concentrated on high-rise developments like Dubai Marina, Downtown Dubai and Business Bay.

“Things were looking a little bit old fashioned,” Wagner said. “There was always this clinging on to a heritage-style design. There was even a booklet from the municipality handed out to most of the architects who were doing anything in the city, listing the kind of ornaments, designs, archways and doorways that they should use. Dubai had to break through that to really make it to the top tier of international contemporary design cities.”

One on the most iconic buildings to break from that era was Zaha Hadid’s Opus building in the Burj Khalifa district, a mixed-use 20-story glass cube with a curving cutout in the middle of the building that began construction in 2007.

“[Hadid] never saw it finalized, as she passed away and they were still working on the building at the time,” Wagner said. “It has layered balconies and floating balustrades and a really nice aspect is that it’s an open space with these floating petal-like booths which you can reposition if you have an event. So it gives you a lot of flexibility on the interior.”

With the financial crash of 2009, many projects were delayed or never realized, but it also gave the city a chance to catch up in terms of infrastructure. Though new buildings were going up, tarmacking roads and connecting water and power lines took a little longer.

When Dubai announced the hosting of Expo 2020 in 2014, the economy picked up again and expansion resumed, with contemporary architecture in mind.

Wagner said that new city architects and planners employed by Dubai Municipality “were much more open to contemporary design.”

Despite having built up so much already, Dubai is far from done with impressive architecture. Having already made world history with the Burj Khalifa, a new tower planned for the redevelopment of Dubai Creek will surpass the height of the famous skyscraper.

Put on hold due to COVID-19, the new $1 billion tower will evoke a slender minaret, anchored to the ground by a web of cables. It will stand at between 1,000m and 1,350m high, significantly taller than Burj Khalifa’s 828m and is potentially slated for a 2022 completion.

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EU Organic Journey Hosts Exclusive B2B Dinner in Dubai, Unveiling European Organic Excellence

The European program “EU Organic Journey”nhosted a distinguished B2B dinner on the evening of the 14th of December 2023 at 19:00, set against the elegant backdrop of MYOCUM Dubai Restaurant (2D St, Al Wasl, Dubai, United Arab Emirates).
Bringing together key players from the Horeca sector, importers, distributors, wholesalers, grocery chains, organic shops, and esteemed food bloggers, the event showcased an array of delectable European organic products, including virgin olive oil, olives, and organic dairy products.
Attendees were treated to a unique opportunity to engage with representatives from the contributing organizations, fostering connections while savoring the exquisite European offerings. The ambiance of MYOCUM Dubai Restaurant provided the perfect setting for meaningful discussions on potential business opportunities. Throughout the evening, participants delved into the heart of the European program  “EU Organic Journey”gaining valuable insights into its initiatives, organic production methods,
and the superior quality of the promoted products. Representatives from the participating organizations were on hand to provide in-depth information, facilitating discussions on potential collaborations and partnerships within the organic industry.
The B2B dinner not only celebrated the richness of European organic products but also served as a platform for networking and knowledge-sharing. Attendees left the event with a deeper understanding of the “EU Organic Journey,” equipped with the information needed to explore new business avenues and enhance their involvement in the organic sector. The EU Financed campaign EU Organic Journey aims to promote and increase the awareness regarding the European organic products from Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria to consumers in UAE, Saudi Arabia and USA with the participation of the organizations Agrodiatrofiki Sympraxi Perifereias Stereas Elladas (ASPSE) from Greece, Bio Carpathia Cooperative from
Romania and National Organic Association (NAO)from Bulgaria.

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Classification: Public New Murabba appointed AtkinsRéalis to masterplan the world’s largest modern downtown in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The New Murabba Development Company (NMDC), a fully-owned subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia,
has appointed AtkinsRéalis (TSX: ATRL), a fully integrated professional services and project management company with offices around the world, to support the design of the New Murabba masterplan, the world’s largest modern downtown in Riyadh, and the Mukaab, an immersive destination that will revolutionize the way in which people experience hospitality, retail and
leisure. A signing ceremony, attended by Sabah Barakat, Acting CEO, New Murabba Development Company, and Campbell Gray, CEO of AtkinsRéalis, Middle East and Africa, was held to mark this milestone and celebrate the ongoing support to deliver Riyadh’s new iconic destination. Sabah Barakat, Acting CEO, New Murabba Development Company, commented: “We are proud
to recognize the important role that AtkinsRéalis has played so far in the translation of the incredible vision of this project into the design of the masterplan and the iconic Mukaab building. We’re also pleased to recognize the ongoing involvement of AtkinsRéalis in this project through a series of recent contract awards relating to the further detailing and definition
of the overall New Murabba masterplan and infrastructure design, as well as the concept design of the iconic Mukaab building.”
“The New Murabba project aligns with Saudi Arabia’s national vision aimed at developing the infrastructure, enabling the private sector, and creating job opportunities for local talent,“ added Campbell Gray, CEO of AtkinsRéalis, Middle East and Africa. “We are proud to work with NMDC on this ambitious project and bring our global engineering excellence and design
expertise, underpinned by cutting-edge technologies and sustainable solutions, to deliver a long-  lasting legacy for the Kingdom and its future generations.” After successfully winning the international architectural and master planning competition for Riyadh’s new icon, AtkinsRéalis will provide its world class advisory, architecture, masterplanning and engineering services to deliver this groundbreaking project, a cornerstone to the visionary reinvention of the Kingdom’s capital city. Contributing to the city’s future development in line with the Saudi Vision 2030, the New Murabba masterplan is inspired by Riyadh’s original balance with nature, and its design is focused on a data-driven approach to sustainability, user convenience, reduction in the need for transport, walkability and people- centric design of its public realm. “Synonymous with designing iconic landmarks in the Middle East, AtkinsRéalis has established a stellar reputation for delivering people-centric destinations combining the region’s cultural identity with modern urban standards,“ said Matthew Tribe, Managing Director, Planning, Design, and Engineering at AtkinsRéalis, Middle East and Africa. “This project win is a testament to our innovative architectural design approach set to redefine downtowns of the future living experience not only in Riyadh but also globally.”

AtkinsRéalis’s competition-winning scheme is inspired by Najdi Architecture, with a focus on creating a futuristic landmark with deep contextual roots that blends Riyadh’s cultural heritage with its future ambitions. The Mukaab, which means cube in Arabic, will be the world’s largest immersive destination providing innovative experiences driven by digital and virtual technology.
The Mukaab’s exterior envelop shrouds an internal skyscraper, which will be one of the largest built structures in the world’s history, standing 400m high, 400m wide, and 400m long. The design of the Mukaab will also include first-of-its-kind hospitality, F&B and retail facilities.

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ASPIRE’s A2RL Debuts Autonomous Racing Car in Abu Dhabi

-Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League to hold its first event in April 2024

– A2RL introduces an enhanced version of the 300 km/h Japanese Super Formula SF23 racing car

– Autonomous technology testing commences ahead of inaugural race in April 2024

ASPIRE’s grand challenge, the Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League – A2RL, has for the first time revealed its autonomous, highly modified Super Formula SF23 development car. The first glimpse
unfolded at ASPIRE’s offices in Abu Dhabi, near the world-famous Yas Marina Circuit, where the premier event of the season – the Formula 1 (F1) Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023 – is currently underway. The same venue will play host to the inaugural A2RL racing event scheduled for next April. Globally acclaimed journalists, representing the world’s most reputable automotive and
racing publications, were also present during the car’s spectacular reveal – further solidifying
the cars status as a trailblazer in the motorsports industry. In April 2024, ten teams spanning North America, Europe, the UAE, and Asia will battle it out to claim a stake in the US$2.25 million purse. The series aims to accelerate autonomous driving development and innovation, pushing the
technology forward for the eventual benefit of road car safety. The new series makes the best use of the forward-thinking and blisteringly quick Super Formula SF23 racing car, developed by motorsport powerhouse Dalarra. All cars will come equipped with an array of sensors and control units as well as a basic level of autonomous performance. The autonomous car unveiled today was fresh off the track, having completed a successful week of testing. Attendees were shown how A2RL’s extensive testing programme has begun to refine the base SF23 platform. This includes validating an array of sensors, controlmodules, and autonomous control software. Once finalized, this base platform will be madeavailable to the ten teams participating in the inaugural A2RL race at Yas Marina Circuit onApril 28, 2024.

His Excellency Faisal Al Bannai, Secretary General of the Advanced Technology
Research Council, ASPIREs parent entity, said, “This is an exciting opportunity to use
extreme sports as the basis for delivering technical advances. A2RL represents an
investment that will contribute to building an autonomous mobility ecosystem in Abu Dhabi,
showcasing safe deployment and encouraging OEM investments for widespread adoption,
ultimately enhancing road safety.”
Stephane Timpano, CEO at ASPIRE, commented: “We are thrilled to debut the A2RL
autonomous racing car to global media. It was an exciting opportunity to discuss our latest
developments and testing while also highlighting the motivation and competitors behind the
competition. A2RL will be the largest autonomous racing league in the world, shifting focus
from drivers to the engineers, scientists, and programmers behind brilliant autonomous
racing systems.”

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