Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Building the Dream

I was fortunate to spend the Holiday period visiting relatives in Dubai and since I have returned the questions that people ask me once they hear of my holiday destination are either about the Burj Dubai (or, should I say, the Burj Khalifa?) or the economic collapse. There has certainly been enough press on these two topics in recent months to make even the most uninformed person know a little bit about this relatively mysterious country. And of course people are interested in the story because none of us want to suffer through this economic downturn by ourselves, it probably comforts us to know that even the mighty wallet of Dubai is feeling the pinch.

And the press likes to draw a line between the flashy mega-skyscraper and the decline in the Dubai economy. Plenty has been written about the correlation between countries building such edifices and their imminent financial nosedives. Maybe it is inevitable that such a manifestation of financial aggrandizement would presage it’s own end…?

But, despite all of the reports, Dubai didn’t look to me like a place that was on hold. True, construction may have slowed down, but at the speed that Dubai builds it is still in the middle of a burst of expansion. The city has only really existed for thirty years or so and the Dubai of even ten years ago would be unrecognizable to most current visitors. In fact, most places I visited I was either told “five years ago this was all sand…” or “three years ago this was all water…”. This rate of progress is unimaginable. To most of us, at least.

However, one man did imagine this.

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum had a vision for Dubai and set about creating the conditions that would allow this city to flourish.

My friend, Charles Day posted a blog yesterday about finally being convinced that anything is achievable: http://www.thelookinglass.com/blog/2010/1/11/never-again.html.

(On a side note, it’s funny that the dealbreaker for Charles was a video of beautifully shot objects that, in fact, weren’t ‘shot’ at all. The whole piece was an exquisitely produced CG of inanimate objects. I say, funny because we have done a plethora of hyper-real CG objects that wouldn’t even be recognized as such…it’s only the talking creatures, etc, that get noticed. Although to be fair, if anyone had asked us to quote on how to achieve this piece we would have certainly told them to shoot it in camera! Anyway, I digress…)

Charles’ blog was a positive note on which to start the year and it made me think about Dubai. Frankly, to me Dubai lacks a certain romance, maybe because everything is so new and it lacks the sense of history, and there are many aspects of unsavoury working practices for the immigrant workforce that are hard to stomach. But the achievement is undeniably impressive. For someone to set out with a vision and then create a plan to bring the vision to life is impressive enough. But to witness the dream coming to life is absolutely inspiring. The Burj Khalifa may be seen as a statement of extravagant arrogance or it may be seen as a sign of mankind pushing the boundaries, of challenging what we know and daring to go further. Sheikh Rashid died in 1990 and the torch was handed to his son, Sheikh Mohammed, to complete the challenge of creating a global city. Of course the path for them to finish their dream was made a lot easier by the money that arrived with the discovery of oil in the late 60’s, but what is not easy is having a dream, a goal, an ambition, finding a plan that you think will get you there and then following that plan to fruition.

Construction may have slowed in Dubai but when I saw the news footage of the fireworks at the opening ceremony a few days after my return I couldn’t help feeling that the Burj Khalifa is another reminder that anything is possible.