Some of the most fantastical structures have come out of Dubai’s building boom: the tallest building in the world, a carbon-neutral pyramid community, an eco-tower that blooms, even a universe of islands (that are now sinking into the sea), just to name a few. But the “build it and they will come” attitude has created a serious vacancy problem for Dubai. As more office buildings are finished, the current 38 percent vacancy rate is expected to rise to 50 percent. A study by the property firm Jones Lang LaSalle found that Dubai needs to convert buildings to non-office space or knock them down completely to solve the problem.

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Dubai’s building boom crashed with the financial crisis, leaving a sea of half-finished skyscrapers, construction sites with nothing but empty foundations, a string of empty islands, and property prices that are down 50 percent. The report said that between the end of 2007 and the first half of 2010, the amount of office space available in the city grew by 140 percent – more than double – to 48 million square feet. But the amount of occupied space only increased to 70 percent.

Because many projects that began before the crash are now being completed, the amount of empty office space will continue to increase, according to Graham Coutts, the regional head of management services at Jones Lang LaSalle. With nearly 20 million more office space coming over the next two years, the vacancy rate is expected to rise from 38 percent to 50 percent.


Dubai has been a haven for innovative green architecture, but the city’s crisis proves that excess creates one thing: waste. It doesn’t matter how green a building is or how many eco-features it boasts, if no one occupies it, it’s useless. Millions of dollars of resources, energy, and materials have been completely wasted in its construction, and even more will be wasted in its demolition (a practice with horrible environmental consequences). Modern urban planners and architects — even those who only practice sustainable building — should see Dubai’s crisis as a warning. If a building isn’t needed, its blooming walls and photovoltaic systems mean squat.

Via The Guardian