The architectural wonders of Dubai that never happened
For every outlandish Dubai construction, there are scores of unfinished, unfunded triumphs of architectural ambition, long forgotten in the clamour for bigger, glitzier buildings. Here, we celebrate the bonkers brilliance of these abandoned (or “on hold”) projects.
1. The World Islands
The World Islands was conceived in 2003 and consists of around 300 islands in the rough shape of a world map. Development stalled after the 2008 financial crisis, however. Just a handful of islands have completed buildings on them, including Lebanon Island (home to the Royal Island Beach Club) and another with show houses and a heliport. Construction has started on several others, including Monaco, Switzerland and Netherlands, but the vast majority remain untouched.
2. International Chess City
A cluster of 32 black and white skyscraper hotels and apartment blocks, all designed to resemble chess pieces – a bit of a niche idea, this one. “We intend to make the International Chess City a centre for all chess lovers,” announced Sulaiman Al Fahim, former Chief Executive of Dubai Projects, at the launch in 2004. “Through its unique design, we will have in place massive interactive screens, where international contests can be held.” Unfortunately, Mr Fahim’s passion for chess didn’t catch on – the project was quickly shelved.
3. Steven Gerrard Tower
When Steven Gerrard agreed to put his name to a Dubai apartment block in 2008, the Liverpool Echo reported that he would receive a £1m flat in return. Alas, no pictures of the development actually exist, as it was pulled soon after. “It is a real privilege to be part of such a pioneering project,” said Gerrard at the London launch of his eponymous skyscraper. Michael Schumacher and Boris Becker have also had Dubai apartment blocks named after them.
4. Dubai City Tower
Who needs an elevator when you can have a 120mph “vertical bullet train”? That was the plan for Dubai City Tower, a 400-storey mega-scraper that would have been seven times taller than the Empire State Building – 2,400 metres, to be exact. It was proposed in 2009, but the project never broke ground.
5. Dynamic Tower
With individually-rotating floors (inspired perhaps by Suite Vollard in Brazil), the 420-metre Dynamic Tower resembles a game of Jenga – all wonky, white-knuckle angles. Each level is designed to spin at its own pace, around a fixed core that supplies water and electricity. Architect David Fisher’s plans were announced in 2008, but they quickly ran aground. “He would not say where the tower would be built, or give any other details because he wanted to keep it a surprise,” reported local newspaper The National in 2009. A decade later it is still on hold.
6. Anara Tower
International architecture firm Atkins held a design competition for its new Dubai skyscraper – and ended up with what looks like a 135-storey fan. Not even Shaun Killa, Atkins’ Head of Architecture (Middle East & India) seemed convinced: “It will possibly be the third tallest building in the world,” he told local magazine Emirates Business in 2008. “Now that the Dubai office has won, the challenge is to make sure that it actually works as a vertical city.” It didn’t – the project was shelved soon after.
7. Trump International Hotel and Tower
Donald Trump set his sights on the trunk of Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah island in 2005, with plans to build a 300-room skyscraper hotel. What went wrong? His plans fell foul of Dubai’s financial crisis in 2008, forcing Donald to readjust his ambitions.
8. Nakheel Tower
At over 1,000 metres high, this silvery skyscraper (also planned for Palm Jumeirah) was all set to be the tallest in the world, with vertical slots to keep it steady in high winds. But alas, it was never to be. The building – which was initially given the imaginative name of “Tall Tower” – fell victim to the global recession.
9. Burj Al Alam
Designed to resemble a crystal flower, this 108-storey monolith would have featured private apartments, rooftop gardens, and a five-star hotel with the highest bedrooms in the world. Its lofty crown would also hold a Turkish bath – the world’s highest, perhaps? The project broke ground in 2006, but was officially cancelled in 2015.
10. Water Discus Hotel
Who wouldn’t want to sleep beneath the surface of the sea? Claustrophobes, probably. But for the rest of us, the Water Discus Hotel promises an unrivalled view of underwater life, combined with mini toiletries, Nespresso machines, trouser presses, and all the usual trappings one expects from luxury accommodation. The project emerged in 2012 but hasn’t made it past the dreaded “slated for construction” phase.
11. Falconcity of Wonders
How do you pinch tourists from rival destinations? Building replicas of their most famous attractions could be one option. Enter Falconcity of Wonders. Dubbed “The World in a City” and – modestly – the “most astonishing place on earth” it is a real-estate complex with a difference. Alongside the luxury apartments there will one day (apparently) be three giant pyramids, a Dubai Tower of Pisa, and a Taj Arabia. The biggest of the three pyramids will be larger than any found in Egypt, while the Taj Mahal reproduction will by four times bigger than the original (yeah right). Lots of the homes have been built (in either “Andalusian” or “Aegean” style), but of the replica wonders there is no sign yet.
And one that might still happen
Dubai Creek Tower
Given that the foundations for this giant $1bn tower have been completed, it stands a fair chance of actually seeing the light of day. It will not contain hotel rooms or offices but instead serve as an observation tower, while the tip will emit a beacon of light. And it will be tall. Taller, in fact, that the Burj Khalifa, the highest structure in Dubai (the exact height has not been revealed). The opening is slated for 2022, so you might need some patience.