Sunday, 9 September 2007


This article has been published on the last issue of 2A magazine link

The dynamics that move the organization of the contemporary city continuously escape the remits of total comprehension and interpretation: hence the urban experience is characterized by its mutable and contradictory nature in which the market forces determine change and metamorphoses. These mutations simultaneously deeply modify both the complex dynamics of spatial and temporal usage within the contemporary city.

However, it could be argued that society also assists this relatively new phenomenon of transformation of the city due to necessities caused by deep economical changes. This is the case currently in Dubai. According to geological forecasts, in a relatively short period of time, the oil reserves will expire in the area of the Persian Gulf. In order to avoid a terrific economical crisis, a total reconfiguration of the city based on incentives to the tertiary 'invisible' sector has been choreographed. Services such as financial institutions, scientific research but mainly hotels and avant-garde architectural design all aid the transformation of Dubai into one of the most luxurious touristic places worldwide.

Once again, thus, the touristic sector represents that extraordinary instrument of urban transformation triggering changes of the historical as well as geographical profile of a place altering its character to better fit the expectations of an exotic leisure experience.
In the past 100 years, a phase of exponential development coincided with the advent of the modern mass society, tourism, which represents nowadays the world’s largest industry with a turnover of over 4 trillion, it confirms itself as the inexhaustible engine behind the process of redefinition and re-territorialisation of the contemporary urban reality.

Nevertheless, the rise of the touristic phenomenon lies in the deep shift occurred in western society in the last two centuries. In fact, the industrial society first and the post-industrial society, then, thanks to the increased productivity, have permitted a tendential decrease of the working hours: the working hours dropped, in certain cases, to less than 40 per week as well as it has been shortening the working period before pension.
This trend has permitted the progressive rescue of increasing quantity of free time promoting, within the capitalistic and late-capitalistic society, the development of leisure or entertainment intended as recreation, distraction from habitual preoccupations, pleasure, wellness.

Thus, such a tendency has clearly reflected, in the hierarchy of values, the placement of resources and in the time employed, the way the leisure has appeared to be a growing preoccupation in our society determining ultimately our welfare, our “quality of life”.
The organization of the free time is sub sequentially becoming more and more relevant and tends to characterize our life styles: the leisure, in effect, is taking the shape of several different activities such as sports, natural and recreational occupations as well as, most importantly, the discovery of the world.
In such context, therefore, tourism assumes features of a particular kind of leisure aiming to reshape the organization of free time within the global holiday resort.
The spread of tourism is pervasive and it doesn’t preclude any geographical boundary: the minimum common denominator of the contemporary journey experience is the exotic nature of a give destination in the endeavor of re-enchanting the world through its exploitation.

The repercussions of this on the organization of the contemporary city and its experience express themselves in various shapes and forms reflecting a new kind of hedonistic urban design.
Dubai, in this sense, represents the most advance experiment of contemporary urban marketing, strategizing its skyline in the attempt to invent a brand new exotic identity to attract visitors and capitals.

Nowadays it's only the beginning of this change; it seems to be destined to transform Dubai into a Wonderland: For example it is planned that three out of the Seven Wonders of the World will be constructed. Specifically, the Cheop's pyramid, the hanging gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse of Alexandria. In addition Pisa's Tower, the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China, will be sharply reproduced thanks to the employment of petrol-dollars.Beyond the debatable and, at the same time, colossal operations of urbanistic cut and paste which are radically reshaping Dubai, what makes this extraordinary open-air laboratory interesting is the gap determined by this experience in relation to the planning of the contemporary post modern city. The Post modern was, in fact, primarily an expression of a fundamental trend of the contemporary living linked with the general cultural environment, its lifestyles rather than fully reflecting itself into the shape of the city and its architectures.

Dubai represents the last evolutionary phase of the urban contemporary experience within which the desire, already to some extent, the heart of the urban organization in other contexts, becomes the only organizational criteria through which the right to plan dreamy urban scenarios totally overlap the real city. The fine boundary line between dreamed city and real city is literally translated into the articulation of the cityscape.Dubai, conceived and designed as a new luxurious Mecca, must reflect an ideal timeless beauty in which an a-critical collage composes the skyline. Precisely in line with the post modern urban experience and, moreover, formally born from that linguistic universe, Dubai represents, an urban ready-made in which a massive insertion of economical capitals together with the employment of the most advanced technologies and infrastructures makes possible the reification of a utopian urban condition. At the same time, its' effect is hyper-real and produces a temporal suspension in which the past is actualized within an eternal present. The Great Wall of China and the high-tech skyscrapers, the sky dome and an ancient Medina precisely reproduced, sit together within the city, which is becoming a self-simulacra.If the post modern city was posing itself in a dialectic relationship with the historical city, mimicking on one hand the architectural languages but, moreover, deeply changing the experiential aspects of the metropolitan life; Dubai represents the trait d'union between the post modern mindscape and the post modern cityscape. The shapes of the city, in fact, compose an urbanite bricolage in which the economical forces and the logic of profit originate a fragmented and contingent planning, fulfilling an oneiric view of the city and its parts. Nevertheless the urban planning, ultimately, is nothing but the reflection of a diffused hedonism, a mass individualism that is organizing the city through the right to the experience of pleasure.This is a sort of dictation of the desire in which what belongs to a utopian vision of the city and its wonders gains the right to be artificially realized. This is due to the employment of technology which is the medium in the service of "caprice": a sky slope in the desert, the tallest skyscraper of the world (800 meters), artificial islands forming palm trees-like archipelagos rather than world-like archipelagos with luxurious houses designed "in style" according to the continent they belong to. Dubai is there to satisfy the last fantasies within the city, it's the residual swatch of what could have already been but the technique were unable to realize; today even that taboo has gone.

Marco Vanucci

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