Despite a handful of genuinely sustainable developments taking place in Dubai, the Emirate has an embarrassing reputation for realizing some of the world's most absurd "green" projects. We've compiled a list of our favorite to poke fun at, including the world's tallest tower, a tennis court placed at dizzying heights, the infamous sinking world islands, and shipping containers for the hundreds of workers who are burdened with building Dubai's cluttered skyline. We've also added a solar-powered desert oasis design that borders on greenwashing, and then, to drive home just how far from reality Dubai's stakeholders are willing to stray, we've included a design for a "sustainable" Iceberg Lodge that we sincerely hope has since been shelved.
Check out six of Dubai’s most dubious building projects:
No list of insane projects from Dubai is complete without the Burj al Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai). At 2,717 feet, it holds the record as the world’s largest tower with the fastest elevators and the most rooms, in addition to a slew of other dubious distinctions. It cost $1.5 billion to build, much of which was borrowed from Abu Dhabi during the economic slump, and ten months after its splashy inauguration in January, 2010, 825 out of its 900 apartments were still empty!
This crazy tennis court didn’t pass our desks until last week, but we have to add it to our list of questionable ideas. As part of a big media splash designed to drum up business for the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open in 2005, the turf court was put on top of the 1,000 foot Burj al Arab tower along the Persian Gulf. At these dizzying heights, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer were invited to play a friendly (and no doubt slow) round of tennis before the Open officially started.
Catering to richest of the world’s rich folks, Dubai set out to create 300 artifical islands in the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf if you talk to anyone on its Arab side). Each island is created by dredging sand from the bottom of the Gulf, which has a terrible impact on a fragile marine ecosystem once celebrated for its coral reefs and marine mammals. 70% of the islands have already been sold and construction continues apace, even though in January this year Richard Wilmot-Smith from Penguin Marine reported that the islands are gradually sinking back into the sea.
At first glance, this looks like a very cool and sustainable project. Conceived by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, Park Gate is a mixed-use development that showcases six curving towers with solar-powered canopies and a host of other green features. But in a city that has no freshwater supply and is already overburdened with vacant towers, does Dubai really need to develop yet another 4.7 million square feet? We think not.
Normally we love shipping container conversions. Done right, they can be transformed into beautiful VIP lounges, eco-hotels, and temporary housing. But if slapped together in a hot desert environment, they aren’t fit for human habitation. Already the government has to impose laws on contractors to stop working their employees when temperatures become unbearable, so it is unlikely they can be trusted to provide adequate housing. Despite a small air-conditioning unit on the side of each of them, these containers house up to 8 people each – a suffocating environment when the temperatures outside are pushing 120 degrees Fahreinheit and more. Dubai does everything in extremes. These shipping containers are just one more example of that.
We saved the best (or worst) for last! In case you had any doubt that Dubai often inspires maniacal ideas with no basis in reality, then perhaps you never heard of the Blue Crystal? A so-called “sustainable iceberg lodge,” it features giant ice sculptures that have to be kept frozen in higher than usual desert temperatures, along with an underwater lounge and ballroom. Frank and Sven Sauer, the designers, tried to convince the world that Blue Crystal would harness natural energy sources in order to maintain itself, and that it would recycle its energy, but we’re not buying it.