The Museum of the Future
At the end of February 2022, Dubai’s newest architectural marvel, The Museum of the Future, opened to the public. With its rounded shape, reminiscent of a large, oval-shaped donut and covered in calligraphic poetry by Sheikh Maktoum, the late vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, the museum is dedicated to envisaging the world in 2071. It was designed by Dubai-based studio Killa Design and named last year as one of National Geographic’s most beautiful buildings. It was founded by Dubai’s Future Foundation, a private and public sector initiative directed by Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Gergawi, a prominent Emirati politician and is dedicated to promoting technological development and innovation, particularly in the realm of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
The Opus by Ominyat designed by Dame Zaha Hadid in Dubai
Another curiously formed architectural marvel is the late Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid’s The Opus. Spanning 84,300 square meters, The Opus, which was conceived by Hadid in 2007 and finished posthumously, is the late Pritzker Prize winner's only project in Dubai to be designed by her both inside and out. It was designed as two separate towers that coalesce into a singular whole resulting in a cube shape that easily transfixes visitors. It holds inside a mixed-use 20 storeys where visitors can relish unique experiences in residences, such as the ME Dubai by Melia Hotel, and fine dining restaurants like The Maine Land Brasserie and ROKA, among others.
Al Fahidi District
In contrast to these glistening new structures is the Al Fahidi District where visitors can experience a slice of old Dubai where traditional architecture reigns in a souk-like formation, recalling bygone days before the city became the busy metropolis it is today. The restored historical neighborhood, which is still referred to by some as “Bastakiya Quarters” evoking its old name – offers a quiet and enchanting retreat away from Dubai’s bustling downtown area. It includes traditional buildings like 18th-century erected Al Fahidi Fort, now home to Dubai Museum's pearl-diving exhibitions, Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, a former royal residence that now displays old photos and documents. The Heritage and Diving Villages have replica mud huts with potters and jewelers at work and in the Textile Souk visitors can relish in viewing and shopping the colorful pashminas and handicrafts on offer.
Burj Khalifa Dubai
Perhaps the most famous and recognizable Dubai architectural monument, and one that represents Dubai around the world, is the Burj Khalifa. Inaugurated in 2010 and formerly known as the Burj Dubai before its name was changed to its current one in honor of the President of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, it also marked the new development of Downtown Dubai. Made in reinforced concrete, with a total height of 829.8 meters high – equivalent to half a mile – and a roof height of 828 meters, the Burj Khalifa has held the record of tallest structure in the world ever since its completion at the end of 2009. It’s the most obvious sight when landing, Burj Khalifa seems to lift its point, akin to that of a needle, into the clouds, symbolizing Dubai’s ambition, force and constant quest for innovation.
The Gate Building – DIF
Nearby to the prominent Burj Khalifa is another building of epic significance and proportions: The Gate Building in Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC). Designed by Gensler, the building, with its triumphal arch, is modeled after the Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It was completed in 2017. It sits on an axis with the adjacent Emirates Towers and the World Trade Centre and signifies Dubai’s quest, as stated by the Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, by “a bold vision to create a financial marketplace to fill the gap not covered by international financial centers of Europe, the Far East and North America.”
One of Dubai’s historical gems, the charming Jumeirah Mosque located in the old Dubai neighborhood of Jumeirah, represents another aspect of Dubai – one rooted in heritage, tradition and faith. One of the city’s older buildings, construction began in 1976 and is built in traditional Fatimid style – the same that can be found in Egypt, which dates to the 9th century. Designed by architect Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, it was built in pink sandstone with an elegant façade that can be immediately recognized from the outside alongside its ornate Islamic patterns. A gift by the late from the Late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (Dubai’s former ruler) to Dubai’s current leader, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, most recently the mosque has been a pivotal place for activity under the “Open Doors. Open Minds.” programs of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU).
Deira Clock Tower
When you visit Deira, one of the oldest parts of Dubai and once the city’s place for commerce now known for its Arab souks where you can buy gold, spices and perfumes, you will get a sense of what the city was like decades ago, during its infant period. One of the primary attractions visitors will see is the Dubai Clocktower, built in 1965 and designed by Otto Bullard and Ziki Homsi, it is located at the first land crossing between Deira and Bur Dubai, providing access to Al Maktoum Bridge.
The Dubai Fountain
One of the most enchanting and one might say, uplifting attractions in Dubai, is The Dubai Fountain where a water show is choreographed to specific songs and music. It is located on the 12-hectare manmade Burj Khalifa Lake, at the center of the Downtown Dubai development in Dubai and is an unmissable sight. Its design features five circles of various sizes and two arcs with powerful water nozzles that shoot up water to incredible heights – performing unforgettable spectacles of water to classical, contemporary and Arabic music, often bringing audiences to tears. An interesting note is that when the fountain is operational it uses 22,000 gallons of water in the air at any moment
D3 (Dubai Design District)
One of the trendiest districts to be erected in recent years is the Dubai Design District, also known simply as D3. Designed by Foster + Partners, the purpose-built community in Dubai dedicated to design, fashion and culture, comprising startups, entrepreneurs and offices of other established brands like Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana, was established in 2013 and is notable for its unique design, recognizable from a distance on the Sheikh Zayed Road, its façade, with its continuous strip of sail shading features revealing itself in a grid-like formation atop each row of windows and which is undeniably the district’s defining feature. The district is set out in a block of 10 buildings that are 5 to 12 storeys-high and Dubai’s mainstay and center of all the action when it comes to hosting global fashion and design festivals. There are also numerous boutiques selling work by local fashion and furniture designers as well as host of al fresco cafés and restaurants. One of its most popular is The Lighthouse, a homegrown Dubai concept serving Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
If you are arriving in Dubai from the airport, it’s impossible not to catch a glimpse of the Dubai Frame with its glistening facade as you drive into the city. An architectural landmark in Zabeel Park that is in the literal likeness of a picture frame, except one at a height of 150.24 meters, it was designed by Fernando Donis, selected as the winner of the 2009 ThyssenKrupp Elevator International Award. It was created out of glass, steel, aluminum and reinforced concrete and has the designs of the logo Expo 2020 on its outer façade and opened in January 2018 amid controversy, with Donis filing a suit in the US court system stating he hadn’t received a contract or compensation for his design. Who owns copyright of the design is still yet to be determined.
Another significant architectural attraction in Downtown Dubai is the iconic dhow-shaped building of Dubai Opera, featuring an exquisite design paying homage to Dubai’s maritime history and designed by Atkins and lead architect Janus Rostock. Since it opened in 2016. The 2,000-seat, multi-format, performing arts center developed by Emaar Properties, a UAE-based multinational real estate development company, it hosted a variety of ballets, performances, concerts, theaters and exhibitions.
Historically called Union House, Etihad Museum, which is located in Dubai’s quaint Jumeirah neighborhood by the sea, is a museum that opened in January 2017 and is dedicated to the collection, preservation and display of heritage from the UAE in areas pertaining the nation’s social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Whether you are driving past or taking a long stroll in Jumeirah, undoubtedly during the cooler months, it will be hard not to become intrigued by the museum’s manuscript-like shape, which was an intentional feature of the design prepared by Moriyama & Teshima Architects alongside the seven columns built into the building to resemble the pens used to sign the original declaration of unification of the seven emirates in 1971.
Palm Island, Hotel Atlantis
They are known as one of the wonders of the world, Dubai’s artificially offshore islands called Palm Jumeirah has long fascinated visitors and residents to the emirate. From the plane, the archipelago of islands resembles a stylized palm tree set within a circle. Removed from bustling downtown Dubai, the “Palm” as it is known, is a popular place for tourists who wish to be close to the beach and stay in one of the area’s resort hotels, like The Atlantis The Palm, and residents wishing to dwell closer to the water on the beachfront. Developed by Nakheel, a real estate company now owned by the government of Dubai, the master plan for the area was devised by Helman Hurley Charvat Peacock, an American architectural firm and first opened to residents in 2007, at the height of Dubai’s “boom” before the global financial crisis of 2008. The Palm Jumeirah was supposed to be the first in a series of three similarly shaped offshore developments in Dubai, with the others being Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira – both of which are larger than Palm Jumeirah but remain unfinished due to economic uncertainty over the years. Also incomplete is The World, a grouping of artificial islands, intended to resemble a map of the world. The Palm Jumeirah today has become a gem amidst Dubai’s sprawling urban skyrises. It offers respite from a city in constant flux and a chance to connect with the encircling waters of the Arabian Gulf.
Jumeirah Beach Hotel
One of Dubai’s oldest buildings, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, with its wave-shaped hotel design that complements the sail-formed Burj Al Arab nearby, is one of Dubai’s oldest buildings. The beachfront where the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel are located was formerly known as the Chicago Beach, and the hotel, was called the Chicago Beach Hotel when it first opened in 1997—the name of a former hotel on the same site. It became known as the Jumeirah Beach Hotel when it became operated by Dubai-based luxury hotelier, Jumeirah. At 93 meters high, at the time it was ranked the 9th tallest building in Dubai and today it comes in lower than the 100th tallest building—a lesson in the economic and social change that has inspired Dubai’s ever-changing skyline.