Pritzker Prize winner blames a lack of control by city's political class
Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne has predicted that Dubai will become an "ecological disaster" if development there continues in its current direction.
In a dramatic speech delivered on Tuesday to the World Architecture Congress's Cityscape Dubai conference, the US architect said the private sector's dominance in the Gulf state had led to a lack of joined-up planning and that this — combined with the immense speed of development — would lead to a major crisis in the future.
The intervention of Morphosis founder Mayne, who won the Pritzker in 2005, coincided with this week's unveiling of proposals by Dubai's leading developer Nakheel for a 1km-tall skyscraper by international architecture firm Woods Bagot.
In his speech, Mayne compared Dubai's public transport plans with the development of Los Angeles in the 1960s, claiming the "political class" had no control over the built environment.
"There is no connected tissue," he said. "It might work today, but the prognosis is not good for the future.
"It's not going to work on many levels, from social to infrastructure and ecological. It's going to be a disaster in ecological terms.
"The political class is no longer in charge of cities… which means there is no planning. Los Angeles is a prototype for that. The private sector rules. It takes hours to get downtown in LA as there is no public transport."
Former RIBA president George Ferguson hailed Mayne's intervention.
"Thank God a star architect has spoken out on this issue because too many are willing to pander to Dubai," he said.
"It's a disaster area if all [architects] do is add eco-bling to their buildings instead of dealing with the fundamentals.
"It's a transport nightmare, it's an energy nightmare. It is absolutely bloody terrifying.
But directors at Woods Bagot insisted that it and other similar firms were at the forefront of a radical improvement in Dubai's development.
London-based managing director Stephen Reinke admitted that some "reconstructive surgery" might be needed to fix the mistakes made in the past.
But he added: "Our clients are all embracing good urban design, solid planning principles, and the view that sustainability must be absolutely part and parcel as we approach the design challenges we face.
"Sustainability isn't just about whether you've got a good air-conditioning system that doesn't use a lot of energy, it's also about building communities that can be sustainable.