I expected a large, beastly metal monster. Expected it to tower over its surroundings casting a shadow on all that lay below it.

Truth be told, I had never taken a good look at the Burj Khalifa. I couldn’t have picked it out of a lineup, I didn’t watch the Mission Impossible scene with Tom precariously hanging off it and I had no real interest in a building that was built purely to become a statistic.

dubai-90

But when we arrived in Dubai (after a long drawn out stop-over) my first impression was: it’s really not that bad.

As a building, it’s actually pretty stunning.

I was surprised at how unassuming it is on the initial approach, especially as it’s the tallest building in the world. The hazy hot desert air makes it look like a mirage as you pass it, and it blends in well amongst the other New York style skyscrapers. The anti-glare cladding was specially sourced to not only withstand the intense heat but also to minimise strong reflection, allowing the exterior to simply glisten in the sunlight.

Unlike most modern new builds, the Khalifa is made up of a series of curved towers, increasing in height, decreasing in width, inspired by minarets. Looking deeper into the architectural plans I found there are a lot of Middle Eastern influences… or so I thought.

A birds eye view should show you the original concept design of the build, as it centres around the pattern of a hymenocallis – a desert flower. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has no idea what a hymenocallis looks like but I read the word desert and was immediately happy knowing inspiration had been taken from the surroundings.

image taken fom wikipedia

image taken fom wikipedia

Well I smiled until I realised that hymenocallis is actually the scientific name for spider-lilly, an American desert flower?!?! hmm…

American flower aside, the patterning used is in fact inspired by that of Islamic art, with symmetry playing an important part in the layout of the Burj Khalifa park.

One of the main things I was impressed with was the versatility of such a large building. By day, it’s as I’ve described above. By night, it takes on a whole new form.

This year they tackled another record, the largest LED light installation projection. A spectacle that changes the whole look and feel and when you’re a lighting obsessive like me, visually – it’s pretty damn impressive.

At its feet, the Dubai fountain, 800 million Dirhams worth of theatrical water projection, lighting systems and speakers. The dancing water jets put on performances every 30 minutes between 6 and 10 in the evening. I was intrigued to see how it compared to the Barcelona Font Magica – however a sea of phones and selfie sticks was all I saw when we visited so I’m afraid Barcelona wins by default.

I’ve realised the Burj Khalifa represented exactly how I felt about Dubai:

Something that has been expertly designed, commissioned to be beautiful, sleek, like no other – to become the best of the best.

That of course comes at a cost. It’s a symbol of eliteness, a symbol of what money can buy. A sight to behold from the outside for those of us who cant afford what’s within.

Underneath the glitz and LED lighting is a cloud of controversy, from the days of construction. The conditions of the workforce brought criticism to the city, with rumours of exploitation.

But from the darkness, there is also some light… creating such an iconic building has of course boosted much needed tourism to an Emirate that was in need of visitors after the crash around 2009. It’s created jobs and opportunities for many.

I will always remember it as the piece of art that it is, but unfortunately the over-the-top extravagance meant I sadly couldn’t form a personal connection with the Burj, or Dubai for that matter.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of luxury, the difference here is ‘luxury’ seems to have become the culture. Almost as if that’s all there is to enjoy, living up to it’s status as a city of superlatives.

When friends and family spoke about Dubai, it was never somewhere I was keen on visiting and my trip this year confirmed it is not the Emirate for me.

I see its appeal and I applaud their achievements, it’s no small feat to take a little port town and transform it into a megacity in around 10 years. The first Arab nation to allure, and accept, the ways of the West.

But for me, I have always liked the traditional side of the Middle East. The quiet, secretive, mysterious side to the desert. With all its issues and problems and backwards ways of doing things. It’s a side that reminds me of where home used to be.

 

Have you visited Dubai? Am I completely missing the point? What did you think of the ‘City of Gold’?

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I’m off on my first International trip for 2016 this Saturday, back to a part of the world which for many years I called home.

I moved back to England in the summer of 1999 after having lived my whole life (up to that point obviously) in Saudi Arabia. My primary years spent living in the coastal town Jeddah, my secondary school years in the capital, Riyadh.

This trip will be my first time back to the Middle East since coming here all those years ago. I’m not intentionally travelling for a nostalgic trip, but just being back in that part of the world will I’m sure bring back many happy memories.

We start in the UAE – staying in Abu Dhabi, allowing ourselves some time to check out Dubai, another place I visited in my younger years, way before the rapid development and expansion of this super city started.

After that, it’s off to Saudi Arabia for a spiritual holiday. We’ll be headed to the holiest sites in the world for Muslims, situated in the regions of Makkah and Madinah. Living in Riyadh I was fortunate enough to have both these cities practically on my doorstep, and I have visited them many times with my family throughout my childhood.

Like the UAE, the Saudi government are constantly expanding and regenerating the two holy sites (mosques) and the surrounding areas so I can imagine a lot of changes must have occurred in the last 16 years.

Although I’m having quite a hectic week trying to work, catch up with people and of course pack I thought I’d share a few old snaps I found. I’m quite looking forward to seeing how much has changed! (and to form my own opinion on whether its for better or for worse).

As much as I’d love to sit and spend the night reminiscing, I have some serious packing to take care of.

 

Anyone visited the places I’ve photographed above? Jumeirah beach seems to be the go to place for most people in Dubai these days… wonder if I’ll recognise it 😉

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