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50U

There is a new book out right now about the United Arab Emirates called 50U. It has been fifty years since the confederation of the seven Gulf states was officially declared (December 2, 1971), and so the book is a celebration of that. The format is 50 portraits of people, places, and plants (yes, plants) that tell the story of the UAE.

Included in the book is an excerpt of a 2009 talk by architect Rem Koolhaas (of OMA) about his reading of Dubai. ArchDaily published an abridged version over here and I thought it was an interesting read. Few people think about cities as deeply as Koolhaas does, and few can express their thoughts in such a rational and Dutch-like way. Here’s a snippet of the talk:

I came here first in 2004. We were asked to do a major building on the site which is marked by the flag. Then, two years ago it was the exact moment… I became increasingly nervous about the mission of architecture and the uses of architecture. And I really became almost desperate… that the incredible pressure of the market economy was forcing architecture itself into increasingly extravagant conditions. Seemingly, Dubai seemed to be the epicenter of that extravagance. So, I came with deeply ambivalent feelings. It seemed as if the idea of the city and the metropolis itself had been almost turned into a caricature, not a coherent entity but maybe a patchwork of theme parks. And those themes would become the bogus and increasingly bizarre characters that were perhaps partly mythical and partly real.

I’ve only been to Dubai once. It was back in 2008 or 2009. And to be honest, it wasn’t my favorite city; I think primarily because I enjoy walking cities and Dubai is largely the opposite of that. It felt like a patchwork of theme parks that you had to drive around to — ideally in an exotic car while being as flashy as possible.

Now if these theme parks were within walking distance (and the drinks were good), that would be an entirely different story.

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