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 !

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

Back in the Grind..or am I?

I’ve been AWOL for quite a while…and I know that. 

So I’m going to give this yet another shot. There was a time- last year- that I began to write about my Charrette Frame of Mind solely to record my academic experiences..for academic purposes.

Shorelight headshot - CopyIt’s time to look back and revise that. It’s time to bore myself less and become more ENGAGED.

First, I gave the blog a makeover- for better or for worse? We’ll find out. Second of all, I know that if I’m only going to be documenting my experiences as an architecture student intern, where’s the fun in that? I mean sure I know that’s unique but that’s not the only thing going on in my life, is it? So I am going to apply my charrette frame of mind to my various alter egos, if you may. I mean I’m a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, an international student, a University ambassador,a sorority girl, a schol-haller, a Catholic Confirmation teacher, an aspiring public interest designer, a CAD assistant, an artist, a writer..let’s talk about all those things, yeah?

Even if it’s my intern diary- and mind you, I do not mean to sound cheesy- my whole life is an internship, a learning process. I’m interning in writing, planning, architecture, service, social skills and family life- all at the same time.

And for all those even remotely interested in the field of architecture, don’t you think that the terms ‘architect’ and ‘architecture’ seem even slightly dissociated? One as ‘the master of all things’ and the other ‘the art of the built landscape’? Well, I’m ready to help resolve that through my own experiences- and yours, which I’d love to hear about.

So let’s hit it. I’m on fire.

*This is the part where you giggle about my powerful speech. *

Crime-fighting Architecture

Johnson County Crime Lab visit

Johnson County Crime Lab visit

It’s been a while yet again, but for good reasons. Architecture school captures and captivates me, leaving me with all these experiences to record.

Last month, I began to be involved with the United States Green Building Council and went on a building tour that was organised by their KU Chapter to the Johnson County Criminalistics  Laboratory in Olathe, KS.

Designing for conditions of high security and low contamination is what comes to mind when you work on a crime lab. Undeniably, I had to learn much about various specific features involved in crime lab design. So read on!

  • Lighting extremes. 
No-glare, no-shadow lights

No-glare, no-shadow lights

Crime lab technicians want to be able to work in a space where they can’t afford to miss any tiny detail. Examination rooms need to be checked for light sensitivity. Therefore, special no-glare lights that do not cast shadows, need to be installed over worktables. Which us bring to..

  • Flexible furniture.
Dusting around furniture made easy!

Dusting around furniture made easy!

Most of the technicians and analysts we talked to, stressed how important for them it was to be able to move tables, workstations,etc around to carry out various chemical processes. One unique thing we noticed is that the rubber tile of the flooring is moulded over legs of tables that are stationary. This allows for cleaning efficiency in such contamination-free zones.

  •  Sparkling clean, round-the-clock. 

We noted that most labs were replete with several spots that had emergency showers and hand wash units embedded in their partition walls. The PGAV architect showing us around informed us that examination rooms are regularly bleached clean, and countertops are made chemically-resistant. After all, these DNA labs handle various biochemical fluids.

  • Air purification.
An analyst talks to us in DNA lab, with an exhaust hood in the background

An analyst talks to us in DNA lab, with an exhaust hood in the background

In keeping with the low contamination profile of the building, its labs host different air handling units (AHU) to preserve air from integration. Different rooms are either positively or negatively pressured according to their function and consist of air-purifying machines. There are about 32 exhaust hoods for Labconco units that monitor laminar flow of air, thus protecting the sample as well as the analyst.

  • Form follows process. 

It’s ideal that the room layout of the building is programmed to execute the functions of the analyst’s process. Also to guard against cross-contamination, most doors within the labs are one-way to prohibit any backtracking. The building is thus highly secured and most spaces have about 4 levels of security.

  • The sights and the sounds. 
An analyst tests a piece of clothing for stains under various wavelengths of light

An analyst tests a piece of clothing for stains under various wavelengths of light

We hold up our slides, ready for the wavelength test

We hold up our slides, ready for the wavelength test

In keeping with its LEED certification, the building allows for maximum daylight in its public atrial spaces. However, due to the nature of the sensitive samples it hosts, daylighting is highly controlled in lab and work spaces with adjustable windows that allow analysts to work with light tools of varying wavelengths. Larger spaces have tall ceiling that are lined with special emergency speakers that add white noise to make up for the extremely quiet HVAC system.

On a whole, the building has an extremely rigid structure, and is vibration-resistant, owing to the quality of its contents. It also employs a strict policy of waste reduction within its design.

Brilliant optimal use of a stairwell as library

Brilliant optimal use of a stairwell as library

It’s important to see how specific architectural requirements can allow for functional success for a building. The more we interacted with the analysts, the more we realised how important it is to manage stakeholders and actively listen to them. Crime labs indeed make for an interesting visit, and I cannot wait to tour some other specific building types!

Until next time!

What IS the CHARRETTE Frame of Mind?

It’s been so long! 4 months yeah..

Architecture school happened, needless to say! And I apologise for that.

But really, between October and now, there have been two research projects, two design competitions, one design project and one construction project. And…another internship . 😉 Yes you read right. That’s gives me quite a bit to talk about, but as for now, LET’S TALK CHARRETTES.

My main reason for naming this blog, is what really got me head-on into the academic program that I am in.  It was my chance participation in a quick/brief design competition at my college- the KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning. It was the first of its kind- the Water Charrette– where the overall theme was ‘WATER’ and we were scattered into groups of students from across the disciplines of architecture, design and urban planning as well as years of school.

Daisy Dew Collector - graphics done by a teammate

Daisy Dew Collector – graphics done by a teammate

Nothing better than a charrette to teach aspiring architects, designers and planners the importance of collaborative efforts towards a general project within a stipulated amount of time while making do with various strengths and limited resources!

Daisy Dew Collector - rendering done by a teammate

Daisy Dew Collector – rendering done by a teammate

Anyway, January 2014 rolled around when the first Water Charrette was held at KU- which attacked the issue of water conservation and reuse on campus. Our guest speakers were Hadley and Peter Arnold of Arid Lands Institute that deals with design innovation at the nexus of water, energy and climate change. My brilliant team worked towards designing a prototype that we based off the phenomenon of biomimicry of the Nambib desert beetle to develop what we called a prototype of the Daisy Dew Collector that would harvest water and dew. We them proposed development of a system of these collectors as parking lot street-lamps for University dorms thus enabling storage of the water collected to be reused for purposes of laundry, dish-washing, etc.

Walk the Park Agro Center - my sketch of the falaj mechanism

Walk the Park Agro Center – my sketch of the falaj mechanism

The second Water Charrette at KU was held last weekend: mid-January 2015- at this time the theme was Food Deserts where we attempted to provide food security by water conservation and improve accessibility to healthy food. Our main sources of information was the expertise of the visiting founding directors of PORT Urbanism (a design consultancy that specialises in institutional planning projects such as public waterfronts) Andrew Moddrell and Charles Marcinkoski. Moddrell and Marcinkoski inspired us to always have a Problem+ attitude to our design approach which meant that we should always aim to solve more than what is required in order to achieve success in privileging the public realm!

Walk the Park Agro Center- a rendering by one of my teammates

Walk the Park Agro Center- a rendering by one of my teammates

And so we did. Yep, indeed both the times my team won; and that too in the same category- the Most Innovative Solution. This time we used the Omani system of the falaj (ancient irrigation channels) to design boardwalk irrigation channels for an existing park. The park could then be converted into a complex – Walk the Park Agro-Center that consisted of a dining complex, fresh food stands, community garden and playground area.

Water Charrette '14

Water Charrette ’14

As a two-time winner of the Water Charrette, a few things I can say about the charrette experience is

  • Make sure you maximise the talents, abilities, both technological and creative of every person in the group- everyone should be a leader. Really!
  • Keep designs low-cost and adaptable to any location and situation- that’s what designers are looking for!
  • Nature-inspired show strategies that have been proven for centuries and are definitely the most sustainable. Keep an open mind; you never know what you’re capable of developing.
Water Charrette '15

Water Charrette ’15

Yet another fun thing about in-school charrettes like these, is that the awards are student-designed and built…

Last year, we received Plexiglass plaques modelled on waves of ‘water’ and this year, acrylic and wood awards that represent sand dunes of a ‘food desert’. Indeed, the laser lab is a wonderful place..

Here’s to tons of encouragement on my behalf for the future charrettes that you may be part of!