Home Sweet Dubai!

A Sindabad view of Bur Dubai

A Sindabad view of Bur Dubai

It’s been weeks that this single young woman has been spending a temporary work stint in this dreamy, extraordinary city and so the possibility of making Dubai her home has definitely crossed her mind. Although it might just be too early for me to think of such, I have definitely explored various housing options in this highly accommodating city, which I wish to share with you!

Now I’m no Dubai real estate agent; just an architecture student who’s new to the city, and also happens to harbour a keen interest in the way the spokes of Dubai’s life-wheel rotate. However, my earliest memories of Dubai (back in the late 90s), were of visits to my cousins who then lived in the Sheikh Rashid Colony, Dubai’s very first low-cost housing for low-income families that was erected in the 70s. While my cousins stayed in the Sheikh Colony in Al Ghusais, other Sheikh Colony complexes thrived in Karama and Satwa. What was once a vast expanse of rough football fields bordered by greenery, is now a crowded parking area that resembles an agglomeration of insects over a sticky toffee. Home to mostly the old-timers South-Asian expatriates, that now form the majority of Dubai’s population, the Sheikh Colony’s residents now face eviction and sky-rocketing rents for a variety of reasons; from the rise and success of the Dubai Metro, to the dilapidated condition of the buildings being deemed beyond repair by the Dubai Municipality.

Remnants of the 70s: Sheikh Colony in Ghusais

Remnants of the 70s: Sheikh Colony in Ghusais

Damascus Street-The Development Board Buildings

Damascus Street-The Development Board Buildings

Fast forward to the present, where I stay in one of the Development Board Buildings (DBB) on Damascus Street; another governmental effort towards living comfort for Dubai’s middle class families. Characterised by their large dark-framed balconies that guard their tinted French windows, the oldest DBB populates the Al Nahda and Ghusais industrial estate of Dubai. Today, the Development Board has evolved as a responsible housing agency, while their buildings continue to remain sanitary and affordable rental units.

Brise-soleils as the sun shield norm around town

Brise-soleils as the sun shield norm around town

Following the example of such, most buildings in Dubai characterise themselves with providing double solar protection from the typical extremes of Dubai. Although the pinnacle of architectural freedom is clearly exercised in Dubai, whitewashed exteriors with deep-set fenestrations and prominent balconies seem to be a common theme. Most buildings emulate Arabian architectural devices that shield residents from solar radiation, while others employ the guise of modernity through brise-soleils and other heavy-duty concrete balconies.

Defining attractive homes from time immemorial is the Dubai Creek

Defining attractive homes from time immemorial is the Dubai Creek

Old-world Dubai- only at Shindagha by the Creek

Old-world Dubai- only at Shindagha by the Creek

For one, the buildings of the Creek area exhibit a sandy exterior as an acceptable camouflage within the desert landscape. The Dubai Creek remains the cradle of Dubai’s heritage and Arabian tradition, and therefore even newly erected buildings in the surrounding area, adopt a fabricated ‘historic’ identity. It is not uncommon to see modern implementations of the Arabic mashrabiyah and barajils or wind towers, describe the Creek buildings.

Terraced gardens : nature's relief in the concrete jungle

Terraced gardens : nature’s relief in the concrete jungle

While preserving tradition remains important, modern living is very much taken into account by housing complexes within such a fast-paced urban hub. Underground parking and security systems remain the norm while terraced gardens and swimming pools provide highly desirable respite from a busy city life, even within an active residential tower. Undeterred by the blazing stroke of the summer sun, most of these terraced heavens remain unshaded with the occasional absence of the traditional pergola. These are also perfect for encouraging outdoor human activity within a residential space, and add to energising the ecological interaction of the residents with their immediate environment.

Bur Dubai : Can you spot all the swimming pools?

Embracing the Hispanic: Luxury Homes in Dubai (image courtesy : Real Vision Homes)

Embracing the Hispanic: Luxury Homes in Dubai (image courtesy : Real Vision Homes)

As express-city living faces its boom, there’s no denying the real estate efforts towards the slow, luxurious kind. Be it a marina setting or entertainment and hospitality background or even a desert theme, world-class living for gated communities is on the rise. Capitalising on habits of the wealthy, various property giants like Emaar, Damac, etc. are fast-developing villa-homes alongside polo ranch complexes, the much awaited Opera District, the proposed Dubai Water Canal, etc.

Andalusian styles (think Spanish roof tiles, reflecting pools, whitewashed Mediterranean exteriors, Moorish arcades) lend character to such estates, not surprisingly- as they promote a relaxed lifestyle in the lap of opulence, while hinting at the Arab heritage that once inhabited Spain. With the likes of Arabian Ranches, Polo Homes and Jumeirah Beach Residences growing, the lives of the Sheikhs has never been this familiar!

On site : Bottom spokes of the Bluewaters Giant wheel

On site : Bottom spokes of the Bluewaters Giant wheel

But as we drive through scores of competing skyscrapers in the city’s downtown, we have got to admit that they contribute towards most of the ‘vertically rising’ accommodation of Dubai. After all the only way to grow, is up! Dubai’s tall and magnificent mixed-use residential towers ensure its folks live comfortably close to their workplaces at the big multinationals, the metro stations for easy and advanced mobility, and noteworthy tourist destinations for evolving entertainment. In fact, it was only earlier this week that I was able to visit the site of the upcoming Bluewaters Island development which is soon to showcase what might just be the world’s largest giant Ferris wheel!

Downtown Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road

Downtown Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road

Oh well; this city of dreams sure has a place for everyone. And by the looks of it, there’s never been a better time to settle here!

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It’s a Mall world after all!

I’ve completed a month here in Dubai! UNBELIEVABLE. And to say that I haven’t been to any of the city’s supermalls yet, would be plain ridiculous. While the city’s joyful flock to the best of the retail centres this Eid weekend, I take this opportunity to wish everyone Eid Mubarak!

Supermalls, yes. I’ve been to malls across the planet, and I must say that those featured in this post, even beat my grand Christmas mall experiences in Kuala Lumpur- and my pictures certainly don’t live up to their grandeur (as there is only so much a smartphone camera can do). The spread, the capacity, the monumentality of these malls of Dubai render me a small-town girl feel as I grew up in Muscat, the capital city of Oman- that I believe has still under 10 malls, over a span of something like a little over a decade. On the other hand, it is safe to say that Dubai is home to something like 80 malls!

Grand Staircase at BurJuman Mall

Grand Staircase at BurJuman Mall

So yeah, it’s definitely beyond my scope to review the experience of each and everyone of these massive retail centres, nor am I much of a regular mall-goer. However, Dubai’s malls change just that- by the wholesome experience they provide. It seems like all these giant doctors of retail therapy are in competition for the title of the biggest and brightest! But before I delve any more into the shopping experience here in Dubai, let’s explore how it all really started.

Le Bon Marché, Paris (1875).

Le Bon Marché, Paris (1875).

 

1867. Paris. It was here and when the Le Bon Marché as a building type came into the picture. Large, fashionable, multi-storied buildings that consisted of several department store units which in turn surrounded an atrium bathed in light, so as to accentuate the quality and variety of luxury goods being offered to the public, at such a palatial scale. Soon they were characterised by light courts, fashionable restaurants, salons, reading rooms, and a monumental staircase with balconies that allowed folks a 360 degree view of the magnificent extent of the bon marché.

The concept remains the same. Today, we have arcades and mini-amusement parks along the likes of Magic Planet and a filmy abundance in the form of cinemas that form part of the extra-shopping experience of these supermalls. In fact, malls of Dubai go the extra mile with this entertainment factor.

A blurred peep into Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates

A blurred peep into Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates

 

Dubai Mall, easily the world’s largest largest mall in terms of area, features an ice rink, dinosaur exhibits, a dancing fountain, aquarium, arcade, amusement park, cinema and of course, offers visits to the top of its neighbour, the one and only The Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building). To get to the Dubai Mall from the metro station named after it, is a long, long moving walkway that circles around the Burj.

And a magnificent peep at the Burj Khalifa from a Dubai Mall walkway

And a magnificent peep at the Burj Khalifa from a Dubai Mall walkway

Balcony view to the in-house Dubai Mall Aquarium

Balcony view to the in-house Dubai Mall Aquarium

Skylit terraced garden atrium at BurJuman

Skylit terraced garden atrium at BurJuman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ramadhan Effect

Food court barricades during the fasting season of Ramadhan, at Dubai Mall

Food court barricades during the fasting season of Ramadhan, at Dubai Mall

The holy month of Ramadhan, sure added another flavour to the mall experience at Dubai. From designer brands to even the popular convenient store Carrefour, retail stores offer humongous Ramadhan discounts and attractive deals. Beautiful Islamic decorations add to the season’s hospitality, and past iftar (when Muslims break the fast), the restaurants are packed! Cultural performances crowd the many atria of the average mall, entertaining the onlookers from the balconies. Fortunately for the majority of the population that consists of non-Muslim expatriates, that don’t fast or observe Ramadhan, some malls have food courts  that are barricaded off during fasting hours for entry of only non-Muslims and remain open to the non-fasting public. A good move and mall-going incentive, because it encourages a high visitor influx during a time when the public is forbidden from eating and drinking in public (as in most Islamic countries, consuming food and drink in public during fasting hours is illegal).

Food Court at Mall of the Emirates

Food Court at Mall of the Emirates

Cultural performance at Deira City Centre : Can you spot the whirling dervish?

Cultural performance at Deira City Centre : Can you spot the whirling dervish?

Eid decorations in full swing at Mall of the Emirates

Eid decorations in full swing at Mall of the Emirates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luxury in convenience

An example of the Sensor parking guidance system  (I do not own this picture).

An example of the Sensor parking guidance system (I do not own this picture).

The supermalls of Dubai continue to evolve with this day and age. They are truly Dubai’s way-finders: even metro stations are named after them. Most of them actually have websites, highly active advertising, complete Wi-Fi coverage and other technologies that I am yet to know of. One commendable feature though, is that some of these huge multi-storeyed mall parking garages feature a sensor parking guidance system. Such an efficient parking management system (that I had never seen elsewhere earlier) helps keep track of vacant parking spaces and saves valuable ‘searching-for-parking’ time, with the help of its circular LED indicators that are placed right above each parking bay. A ‘green’ one signifies a vacant spot and a ‘red’, taken. What an effective way to reduce mall-going congestion and redirect traffic in a massive city like Dubai!

Traditionally-inspired retail therapy at BurJuman's 'open' food court

Traditionally-inspired retail therapy at BurJuman’s ‘open’ food court

Needless to say, the supermalls of Dubai are essential to its lifestyle, entertainment, tourism and much more. Whether you’re a selfie-obsessed bevy of teenage girls, a couple that really needs to shops for family necessities, a group of ‘bros’ looking for some weekend entertainment or a single woman who wants to explore the scale of the mall by herself..what a habitat for world-class retail therapy !

A Dubai before Skyscrapers

Thursday came around and the initial signs of the sunset of the week began to show. Even the gentle sways of the metro train failed to put me to sleep as I eagerly waited to reach my destination: the weekend. Getting off at the Al Ghubaiba station to meet some cousins after ages, it was clear that I had stepped back in time to a treasured part of Dubai.

The cousin and I by the Creek :)

The cousin and I by the Creek 🙂

The Creek, the Souk area (off. Baniyas), Old Dubai, Heritage Village Dubai, Shindagha, whatever you may call it- is a testimony of government appreciation of Dubai’s pearl diving and shipbuilding origins. As I walked by the curve of the shore with my toddler of a cousin, I soon found out why.

Going traditional at Al Ghubaiba Metro Station

Going traditional at Al Ghubaiba Metro Station

Firstly, the metro stations that welcome you to these spots, have intentionally been adorned with a traditional air. A far cry from modern Dubai, but a salute to the its sandy origins and Islamic heritage. On the outside, the stations don’t look like 21st century modern stops as seen in the rest of the city, but resemble the traditional malkafs or wind towers that characterise Islamic vernacular architecture. Even the buildings in and around the Creek – and I mean, including the ones that have been newly constructed;  adopt a traditional style on their exterior to keep the historic fabric of the area intact. Good move, isn’t it?

The early hours of the evening exuded a humidity that was bearable enough, in comparison to the otherwise prevalent wrath of the sun. Palm trees dotted the gaps left by the cluster of sandy buildings that occupied the corniche. Neat, old-world and pristine: don’t you like that? This modest streetscape sure inhabited tourists who were wildly snapping away their last daytime scenes of the Heritage Village while the locals took their daily dose of fitness as they jogged by.

Heritage Village : Creek leisure at its best

Heritage Village : Creek leisure at its best

Diving village on display

Diving village on display

A well-kept monument of the royal family (Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum’s)- former ruler’s old house, welcomed strollers into the area. As we kept on walking, I began to note restaurant chains that took advantage of the seaside ambience and old-world charm to satisfy large appetites. Next, I was able to spot hints at Dubai’s pearl diving origins: be it the oyster pearl display, the open exhibition of indigenous diving boats or the decorated fishing nets. Towards the end of the promenade, was clearly a government-erected ‘almost live’ re-enactment of the fishing and trading activities of the region, historically speaking.

Bringing the ol' trade back to life

Bringing the ol’ trade back to life

Aboard the water taxi

Aboard the water taxi

I’ve got to say, with such a rich marine background, the region has a mode of water transport that still thrives, thanks to the Road and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai. And that too a variety, that is easily available to the masses for dirt cheap prices. Because just like the metro and bus system, the Creek’s boats have been standardised for daily public transportation. For one, there are the ‘abras‘ that ferry folks every few minutes across the creek for just 1 AED ($0.27). There are also other clean water taxis for 5 AED. Of course, I jumped aboard one of these water taxis to enjoy the sea breeze across the breadth of the creek.

The Dhows : Night Queens of the creek

The Dhows : Night Queens of the creek

An abra proudly sporting the Emirati flag

An abra proudly sporting the Emirati flag

Blurs of the Souq

Blurs of the Souq

Just for the record, the abra experience is one to remember. While sailing on this traditional wooden vessel, the horizon had already given way to the dark, only to emphasise the glitter of the landscape in the reflections by the waves. Decorated vintage boats, ornamented minarets, historic buildings and scores of palm trees populate the view around me as I’m still a ways from the shore. The glittering abra finally takes me to the other side : where the old-world marketplace awaits. Chaos and colour surrounds the Gold souqs (that also sell spice, frankincense and souvenirs) while tourists and locals bustle in a united frenzy from shop to shop. The all-too familiar wooden arcade of the souq, however seems to be desolate at this sunset hour, owing to the Holy month of Ramadhan (it is at this hour that the Muslims break their fast with prayers).

Old-world sunset

Old-world sunset

Well, this place is sure as quiet as quiet can be for a city like Dubai- which is a wonderful thing! I’m frequently tempted to visit this historic city centre, just to take solace from the uproar of the fine masses and skyscraper jungle that surround it. The very urban habitat that has come to characterise Dubai as we know it, no doubt makes us forget that once upon a time, it had peaceful, humble beginnings as seen here by the Creek. Exactly what I needed for my restful weekend!

My summer solace : the Dubai Creek

My summer solace : the Dubai Creek

Every city needs its quiet, historic, seaside downtown. And every Dubai needs its Creek.

In Transit : Dubai, A Metro story

A model of a Dubai Metro  station at ATKINS Dubai

A model of a Dubai Metro station at ATKINS Dubai

This past week kicked off a new exciting chapter of my professional life : a two-month internship with ATKINS Dubai! Since a large amount of my daily time is spent in commuting with Dubai Metro, I thought I’d share this transit story with you!

As you may recollect, last year I interned with one of the world’s largest design and engineering consultancies, ATKINS, at their Oman office- only to now have bagged an architectural intern position (for the summer) at their Dubai office, which was responsible for the Burj Al Arab among various other magnificent projects. Now, the Dubai Metro is this wonderful rapid transit system- and I learnt only later that it was designed by none other than ATKINS Dubai themselves.

So, are you ready? Let’s go explore!

Getting the Logistics straight 

Red and Green lines of Dubai Metro

Red and Green lines of Dubai Metro

First off, I got one of these cards- a ‘Nol’ card which is what the card machines read in order to let me enter and exit out of a metro station. With the number of zones that I end up traversing daily, I shell out 10 dirhams a day with my regular route. 1 AED = 0.27 USD. Phew! These cards can be recharged with cash of most denominations at any of the ticket counters or information booths at the stations. Plus, the card readers inform you of your balance as your card beeps against them, so you can always be updated about whether it’s time to recharge or not.

Info plaques at the station

Info plaques at the station

The other thing to look out for at the stations are the information plaques. Here you can clearly discern where you need to be going. As of now, there are two main lines, the Red (To Rashidiya/ To Jebel Ali)  and Green (To Creek/ To Etisalat) lines, which intersect at two stations, Bur Juman and the Union– obviously the points of greatest traffic. (My office is on Bur Dubai, so I get off at Bur Juman taking the Green Line from Al Ghusais, pronounced Gee-sis).

Everything is clearly demarcated in English and Arabic, even the announcements. In a city like Dubai where the expatriate population is close to a 90%, surviving linguistically is the last thing to worry about. Display screens also keep you well-informed about when and at which platform the next train is arriving.

Enjoying a Well-designed Ride

At the lines

At the lines

Of course, there are many things to love about this rapid transit system. While some may not agree, the elevated viaducts of the rail system add to Dubai’s futuristic look as a ‘Smart City’ while these lines chase around skyscrapers against the backdrop of a growing urban jungle. This makes the ride itself enjoyable as you obtain a view of great architectural works and the city as a whole, while you travel to work or school daily, thus killing the monotony of the journey.

At the station

At the station

Moreover, the design of each metro station is classic: the station pods are all quite easily reproducible across the city and are undoubtedly, the city’s new landmarks, in terms of their way-finding aesthetic. Needless to say, their transparency not only lends the streets an avant-garde feature, but also increases travel efficiency for the scores of regular commuters.

What Dubai Metro does really well

In the Women's compartment that borders the General compartment

In the Women’s compartment that borders the General compartment

Gender Reservations

Gender Reservations

There are reserved compartments for General, Gold Class and Women and Children. I obviously use the Women’s compartment which guarantees me a seat every time. Let’s face it : the female workers ratio is quite low. Hefty fines though if you are a male specimen and are found within this compartment! They even have compartments that ensure accessibility for the specially challenged.

Know your pole!

Know your pole!

Grasp. Catch. Hold!

Grasp. Catch. Hold!

One extremely brilliant aspect of the abundance of standing room in the compartments that I noticed, are the poles that are ‘trifurcated‘ in order to allow more ‘grasping area’. In other words, when folks wish to catch on to something to support themselves, as the train jolts it way around, the efficiency of this design ensures that more people can grab on to the pole.

Moody Blues: Bur Juman Metro Station

Moody Blues: Bur Juman Metro Station

Last of all, each station is not a replica- which is really great because it keep things interesting and relevant. For example, the Bur Juman station (which opens to Bur Dubai, the Wall Street of Dubai) is all decked in dark blue moods with strange giant jellyfish for lighting: an exquisite underwater theme that plays off Dubai’s pearl sea diving origins. Other stations show off their Art Deco references and Islamic heritage styles.

Al Ghusais Metro Station on a weekday morning

Al Ghusais Metro Station on a weekday morning

All in all, the Dubai Metro is the city’s newest and indispensable lifeline. It’s worth the ride.

The Mumbai Man

Holcim foundation Correa portrait

Charles Correa, image courtesy : Holcim Foundation

So much for me not taking a break from blogging- I didn’t realise how long it has been since I last wrote! In any case, much has happened – that has given me much to write about.

Yesterday I learnt that my favourite architect passed away. The unforgettable Charles Correa, father of Modernist India- who every architecture student across the globe has studied about. My favourite, why?

Vista of Kanchenjunga from the cab

Vista of Kanchenjunga from the cab

Well, we shared a few things:

  •  We both received architectural education in the United States- he was a Michigan alumnus, I’m still studying in Kansas.
  • Ethnically speaking , we’re both Goans (Goa was a Portuguese colony, now an Indian state). Correa? D’souza? Portuguese names, alright!
  • We both love LOVE Mumbai or rather ‘Bombay’. I was born there; it is my parent’s hometown. His biggest projects lie in Mumbai, in fact he was the chief architect of Navi Mumbai or New Bombay, a planned township of Mumbai.
  • But most important of all, I care a great deal about low-cost housing and urbanisation– something Correa was quite the expert in.
Kanchenjunga : Cab picture 2

Kanchenjunga : Cab picture 2

It’s sad knowing that I’ll never be able to go and procure his autograph. In fact, it was only last week that I was in Mumbai, surveying its urban fabric for the hopes of starting a Public-Interest Design or Social Impact Design project, when I was able to catch a glimpse of my favourite Correa project- the Kanchenjunga Apartments, as my taxi squeezed through South Mumbai’s unbelievable bottlenecks. Two-storeyed apartments in a distinctive-looking building that forms part of Mumbai skyline- that came up before most of its modern skyscrapers- Kanchenjunga is a stark contrast to its neighbours, and rather looks like a stack of Jenga! KANCHEN-JENGA!

Haha,okay.

Cafe Mondegar with Cousin Cybil

Cafe Mondegar with Cousin Cybil

While we’re on the subject of Bombay Goans who were artistically eminent, I guess it’s time to bring up my favourite cartoonist Mario Miranda– who also died; a few years ago. Miranda conjured up beautiful scenes of Mumbai and Goa- some of which are brilliantly recorded on the walls of Cafe Mondegar- which I was able to visit during my brief visit to Bombay. I apologise about the picture quality; I’m always high on life when I’m in Bombay!

Mario Miranda Image courtesy:  Findall Goa

Mario Miranda Image courtesy: Findall Goa

But that’s not all. I’ll delve more into my reasons for briefly visiting Mumbai, later. Till then, I must get cracking on packing for my big drive to Dubai tomorrow, for what might just be a new chapter in my life. Tada!

Upcycling : It’s Craft-Time!

FirstAs I have been telling most people, the semester that just went by, was the most enjoyable and least stressful yet. I mean, I had a Freehand Drawing for Architects class, a Design-Build studio and an English practical tutoring class, in addition to regular classes. This allowed me to direct my creative energies – not elsewhere but within my academic field itself..

Since I was spending so much time in the KU Warehouse for design-build, construction and other technical skills were becoming second nature. Scraps of metal, wood, metal and scores of other interesting material lay around me. Remains of erected projects waiting to be used. Why not reduce waste by making something useful out of this scrap material? And that’s where UPCYCLING kicks in! That’s why I call it Crude+Design =CruDesign!

WarehouseSo you probably remember my penchant for the historical Egyptian architectural device of the patterned screen- the ‘mashrabiyah‘? Well then, I first found an image file of the screen, took it into Adobe Illustrator where I used the ‘Rasterize’ tool. Then I pulled that file into AutoCAD where I used the ‘Explode’ tool to break the image into several lines. It’s here that you can decide what stays in your pattern and what doesn’t. Edit it to your liking!

Ready piecesThen I went material hunting in the warehouse. Scrap plywood and leftover basswood sheets did it. Remember, you can’t use a laser cutting machine on plywood- the laser will melt the glue between the layer of the sandwiched sheets/plys, enough to put your machine out of order (Experience speaks, just not mine though). So I used the bandsaw in the wood-shop to cut the plywood to the size I needed. As for the basswood, the laser cutter etched the mashrabiyah pattern from the CAD file I had saved earlier (You set different colours and layers on your CAD file to make different types of cuts and etches by your laser cutter!).

DownMy pieces were ready! I backed my basswood patterned screens with some thicker basswood. Then I set them up on a plywood base and filled the edges with scrap strips of basswood sticks. After consolidating the whole arrangement with a mixture of wood glue and tacky glue, I trimmed off any splints with a sander. Smacking off the dust with my palm, my little wood project was ready! This pattern can really make for a decorative container or a stationary holder or even a set of coasters. Let me know if you would like me to custom-make you one! 🙂Last

Coasters