Monthly Archives: February 2014

A View from the VERY Top // Dubai

Burj Khalifa Cover

Remember how I said I hate posting about the same thing for a long time? We are at a point where I am getting lazy and careless (more than the usual amount). So instead of respectfully categorizing my posts, I’m going to write about the experience of a place in multiple scales:

The Burj Khalifa

At the largest and  most distant scale, the Burj Kahlifa is an iconic anchor to the city. It is impossible to miss and is a landmark for the entire region.

Burj Khalifa from a distance

At the foot of the tower, you find that you and everyone around you is constantly looking up. Everyone is crouching to try to capture the entire building in a single photo, and photographers are being scolded by their families for cropping out the top of the Burj.

Burj Khalifa at the foot 2

A fountain show begins every 1/2 hour. People stop in their tracks to watch water dance to music in a show that is (of course) larger than that of the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Burj Khalifa at the foot

It is perfectly reasonable to expect that a visitor to Dubai would like to enjoy the view from the top of the world’s tallest building. But first, one must journey through the world’s largest mall to reach the base of the tower. If you survive the Dubai Mall, then you may scale the Burj.

Dubai Mall Restaurant Detail

Restaurants in the Dubai mall are plentiful and beautifully themed. 

Dubai Mall Cafe

Even the cafes sport brand names.

Dubai Mall Aquarium

The Dubai Mall also features a massive “Underwater Zoo” that is not to be confused with a lowly aquarium.

Dubai Mall Bookstore

Nearly every store in this mall rivals a high end retail store in any other place in the world. An ordinary book store is raised to the status of a high fashion shop. This simply means that the high fashion stores are designed to make a very wealthy person’s home look like a cardboard box.

Dubai Mall High Fashion Detail 1

I am similar to the stereotype of the average man in that I don’t particularly enjoy shopping. Especially shopping for shoes. However, I could spend several hours wandering around the “Shoe District” of the Dubai mall.

Dubai Mall High Fashion Detail 3

This “district” features architectural details the likes of which I have never seen.

Dubai Mall High Fashion Detail 2

Assuming you survive your journey through the Dubai Mall, you may then consider going to the top of the Burj Khalifa. If you are lucky you can purchase a ticket to go up at sunrise.

Burj Khalifa Sunrise 1

It may not seem to be that high up once you reach the top of the Burj, but the massive buildings that you had previously been surrounded by now seem like they’re a small architectural model.

Burj Khalifa Sunrise 2

Before you know it, a massive red/gold egg is rising in the sky.

Burj Khalifa Sunrise 3

And you are left kinda speechless…

Burj Khalifa Sunrise 4

Burj Khalifa Sunrise 7

Eventually it is day and all of the HVAC systems of all the towers in Dubai are revealed on the tops of all of the buildings.

Burj Khalifa Sunrise 5

But you’re still left a little speechless.

Burj Khalifa Sunrise 6

If you are ever in Dubai, do not miss this. 

Though I suppose if you ever go to a country that is home to the World’s Tallest/Largest/Fastest/Smartest/Greenest/Smelliest things, you’d likely know to visit them. It isn’t really a secret that required my divine insight, is it? 


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Space Bean Hotel // Abu Dhabi

Yas Viceroy Hotel Cover

If you’ve ever read my blog or ever heard me talk about architecture, you know that I am not a big fan of the arbitrary. I think there is a place for crazy curves and sharp angles if used purposefully, but they are often not. So, when seeing this massive glowing structure that resembles a color changing bean, you can imagine my preconceived notions. This is the Yas Viceroy Hotel.

Yas Viceroy Hotel Night Exterior 2

I can’t imagine how this form was decided upon. Inspiration from a breaching whale? A Lima bean? What’s more, I can’t imagine what it is like trying to sleep in one of those rooms as the surrounding skin changes colors throughout the night. But whatever negative biases I had towards the building and its extraterrestrial form were diminished when we entered the hotel.

It was beautiful.

Yas Viceroy Hotel Hallway 2

It seemed rather dark for American standards, but it worked in context. The entire interior had a warm glow of indirect lighting. You can see the small yellow dots of light tucked away in the edges of the wall. All of the circulation space felt a bit like an airplane runway as a result.

Yas Viceroy Hotel Hallway 1

All of the halls were embellished with lines, perhaps associated with wayfinding (though I did not follow any one line long enough to see where it led).

Yas Viceroy Hotel Interior Hallway

The walls were detailed with a pattern that were sometimes apertures into the adjacent rooms that diffused light into the halls. Other times they were nothing more than paint on the wall.

Yas Viceroy Hotel Hallway light detail

The entire interior had a strange retro/space-age feel that was unlike anything else I had ever seen.

Yas Viceroy Hotel Ballroom

I sincerely wish I had taken the electric lighting class I am currently in before I visited this project. I am sure there are some really fascinating lighting details I was oblivious to.

Yas Viceroy Hotel Restaurant

I think the beautiful interior made the exterior bother me much less. I wish I had visited when it wasn’t so dark or with a tripod on hand since you can see how grainy and blurry the photos turned out. Regardless, I’ll end with what I thought was the money shot:

Yas Viceroy Hotel Night Exterior 1

I think I am often too critical of buildings I visit, particularly ones that scream for your attention. I like this building. Visit it if you have a chance.

I could probably say a few bad things, but I’ll hold my tongue. That means you’ll hear double the negativity next time… Lucky you…


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Studio Blues

I was out the door at 3am today because the amount of work I needed to get done called for extreme measures.

You may ask: “Why?”

study model elevation

Well, I need to draw and redraw floor plans until they eventually come full circle to what I originally started with, Photograph a crappy study model that looks nothing like the finished project, and essentially spend hours of my time doing work that no one will ever see or appreciate.

Study model photos

Once more, you may ask: “Why?”

Well… Because I love it.

I had this epiphany this morning while working alone in studio, which made me realize something else:

Love Stinks

Happy Valentine’s Day. 

More UAE photos on the way…

Design Work just thinking

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The Land of Broken Dreams // Dubai

The Land of Broken Dreams

I ask you to do a lot of imagining. Indulge me once more. Imagine Dubai. Specifically, architecture in Dubai. What do you see?

Super tall buildings? Crazy metal forms? Ambitious and expensive designs and materials covering a former desert? 

As a student of architecture, my preconceived ideas of what Dubai’s architecture would look like reflects exactly what a Google Image search yields. One of a kind buildings. Feats of architecture found only in this one area of the world. Buildings so unique that, no matter their performance, will be referred to as masterpieces (Though I disagree with this type of architecture, it exists and is easily photographed).

Almost as impressive as the buildings I saw was the construction graveyard that takes up so much of the city.

Unfinished Building 1

Tall towers that are so near completion are left unfinished and exposed to the elements.

Unfinished Building3

Re-bar is rusted and concrete is weather worn. 

Unfinished Building2

Idle cranes hover over empty shells and serve as monuments to tough economic times. You can literally trace exactly where the money ran out.

Unfinished Building4

Though this is a sad sight, with an awakening economy and the fast approach of the Dubai World Expo in 2020, things have once again started moving. For every ten exotic renderings of Dubai on Archdaily, there is one constructed architectural artwork. One example is the Cayan Tower.

Cayan Tower 1

Though unfinished at the time of my visit, work continues on this nearly complete project.

Cayan Tower2

The tower twists as it reaches up towards the sky. It is a bit more awkward than a stacked series of planes that rotate as they move up, but it is still an eye-catching project.

Cayan Tower Detail

Projects like this succeed for a reason. People seem to be thirsty for the new and original, and are willing to pay any cost. Sometimes the cost is much greater than a dollar amount. To create a unique piece of eye-candy, sometimes building performance is sacrificed. Meet the O-14 Tower:

O-14 Tower from the Burj Khalifa

From a distance, this building looks exactly as it’s computer renderings portrayed it. 

O-14 Tower Entry

Even when visiting the building up close, there is something enticing about this one-of-a-kind project.

O-14 Tower Facade Detail 2

It is essentially a glass tower, like any other in Dubai, that is wrapped in a thick skin, punctured by large apertures.

O-14 Tower Facade Detail

I could probably post a dozen pictures of this glaring, white surface that hovers a few feet from the black glass volume. I’ll limit myself to just three…

O-14 Tower Facade Detail 3

I can’t speak to much to how the skin affects the interior spaces, since I was only allowed into the lobby. I hope that the holes in the skin are related (either in size or proximity to one another) to the function of the spaces within the building, but it is doubtful that this is the case.

O-14 Tower Lobby

I do know that the punctures near the bottom of the skin expose the entry.

O-14 Tower Entry Detail

And that larger openings allow for halls of circulation to extend to and from the main volume.

O-14 Tower Back

But, as my father wisely pointed out, this floating skin poses a problem of function. Glass buildings in the desert, perhaps more than glass buildings in any other setting, must be washed almost continuously because of all the sand that collects on the surface. With a skin design like this, it is impossible for window washers to clean the black glass.

O-14 Tower Facade Detail 4 Problems

This was an uncommonly long post designed to come to the conclusion that though some buildings look cool, they don’t always work well. The above example is one found quickly just by looking at the building. Imagine, if you will, the problems that exist (if any) when trying to use the building.

Is it worth the cost? Is there any reason to create a landmark building and sacrifice function? I’m not sure there is a definitive answer. Architecture purists might follow the ideal that form follows function. A business savvy client might argue that unique sells, and that to fill the building with tenants they need something new and cool.

More importantly, I lied. I’m posting four photos of the skin…

O-14 Tower Skin

To end this post, I present an anecdote:

While trying to gain access to the interior of this building, I had a conversation with the security guard. I told him that I was an architecture student and that I just wanted to peak into the upper spaces, and he smiled and kindly said that would not be possible. So I thanked him and informed him that they had a very nice building.

To that, he grinned and exclaimed, “Yes! It looks like Cheese!”

More later.


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Extreme Green // Masdar City

Sustainability is most definitely a hot topic, especially in the field of architecture. Imagine a series of massive cities in the middle of the desert. You may ask, “How is that sustainable?” A more rational question could not have been asked. Building skyscrapers and super highways in an area with extreme heat and little water seems like a bad idea, and, without a wealth of oil, would likely be impossible to sustain. Enter Masdar City.

Masdar City Title

The story goes (this is strictly the “dumb guy” version of the story), that someone at some point during the growth and expansion of the UAE (or Abu Dhabi or Dubai or something) had enough foresight to recognize that the country only has a finite amount of oil. Someday (maybe in 10 years, maybe in 100 years) the oil will run out. So, in preparation for that day, Masdar City (Designed by Foster+Partners) was created as a case study in Sustainable city design for a world that no longer relies on oil. I don’t know how accurate this back-story is, nor do I care. Just stop worrying so much about it and look at these pictures:

As a visitor who is interested in sustainability and in architecture, this was a real treat to visit. The trip begins by parking your car along the periphery of the city and entering a self-driving electric vehicle terminal.

Masdar City Electric Car Terminal

This was the highlight of the visit. It is such a novel, Disneyland-style idea that makes visiting Masdar City worthwhile. Since the city is only part built, the vehicles make only one stop. However, you can imagine how this idea will become more useful as the size of the development increases. It even features some really interesting way-finding/typography tricks to use Arabic and English cleverly.

Masdar City Wayfinding

This terminal also features a model of a portion of the development, highlighting how little of this ambitious project is actually completed.

Masdar City Model

The above photo of the model is depicting the library of the Masdar Institute, which is the only built portion of the city.

Masdar City Library

There are quite a few interesting looking buildings, but none are more eye-catching than the library. 

Masdar City Library Detail 1

Massive, curved glulams hold up a metal screen that allows diffused light to enter the library (above). Inside is a DNA-strand-looking, concrete staircase  which I was not allowed to go up… (below).

Masdar City Library Stair Detail

Out back there were four large vans sitting idle with the engines running and no one inside. Sustainability!

Masdar City Library Detail 2

While all of the architecture is very contemporary, it takes cues from the local vernacular by utilizing design elements such as geometric screens, day lighting, and windcatchers. Below you can see the dorms for the institute:

Masdar City Dorm Detail 1

And a similar, but somehow different view of the dorms:

Masdar City Dorm Detail 2

Contrary to the majority of the photos you see when Google image searching Masdar City, the entire project is not a curvy mess. There are some areas that utilize simple geometries: 

Masdar City Detail 1

Also, not everything is a warm earth tone. It can occasionally be a cold looking place. 

Masdar City Detail 2

The project is littered with interesting details. You have to hunt for them, but they are there.

Masdar City Detail 3

The idea behind this place is great. In the winter there is a gentle breeze that flows between the buildings and makes for a really pleasant walking experience. In the summer, I have been lead to believe that Masdar City, like the rest of this country, is unbearably hot. No amount of clever wind directing or thermal insulation can prevent you from being cooked alive by the desert sun. While I am being negative I should mention that there are some questionable design elements too.

For example, allowing water drainage to run along the paths sounds perfectly harmless. But, when the color of the drain matches the rest of the path perfectly, you can imagine how one might accidentally step backwards into it while trying to capture the perfect shot and nearly fall on one’s fat american ass. 

Masdar City Water Drain

I haven’t seen to many positive things written about Masdar City. I also haven’t seen too many negative things written about Masdar City. Most importantly, I am too lazy to research anything about Masdar City. So I will tell you the three things I know:

1- Masdar City looks interesting.

2-Masdar City is supposed to be sustainable.

3-I’ve never seen anything quite like Masdar City in my entire life.

Just like most things I blog about, if you are in the area you should definitely check out Masdar City.

Or just wait for the rest of my UAE blog posts. If you do that you won’t have to suffer through an unbearable plane flight. 


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