Under the enlightened despotism of its Crown Prince and CEO, 56-year-old Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Rhode-Island-sized Emirate of Dubai has become the new global icon of imagineered urbanism. Although often compared to Las Vegas, Orlando, Hong Kong or Singapore, the sheikhdom is more like their collective summation: a pastiche of the big, the bad, and the ugly. It is not just a hybrid but a chimera: the offspring of the lascivious coupling of the cyclopean fantasies of Barnum, Eiffel, Disney, Spielberg, Jerde, Wynn, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.Here's an idea for a site for anyone who lives in Dubai: how about collecting pictures of the Dubai of South Asian workers, crass commercialism, backwards and lazy part of the local population, etc... and publishing them as a pastiche of the "cutting edge of the world" PR seen everywhere?
Multibillionaire Sheik Mo -- as he's affectionately known to Dubai's expats -- not only collects thoroughbreds (the world's largest stable) and super-yachts (the 525-foot-long Project Platinum which has its own submarine and flight deck), but also seems to have imprinted Robert Venturi's cult Learning from Las Vegas in the same way that more pious Moslems have memorized The Quran. (One of the Sheik's proudest achievements, by the way, is to have introduced gated communities to Arabia.)
Under his leadership, the coastal desert has become a huge circuit board into which the elite of transnational engineering firms and retail developers are invited to plug in high-tech clusters, entertainment zones, artificial islands, "cities within cities" -- whatever is the latest fad in urban capitalism. The same phantasmagoric but generic Lego blocks, of course, can be found in dozens of aspiring cities these days, but Sheik Mo has a distinctive and inviolable criterion: Everything must be "world class," by which he means number one in The Guinness Book of Records. Thus Dubai is building the world's largest theme park, the biggest mall, the highest building, and the first sunken hotel among other firsts.