Author : Sally Michael

University : American University in Dubai

Status : BArch, 2015

Advisor : Tiago Costa

Title : Dubai Central Space Plaza

We have a rather intriguing  relationship with our understanding of the future. Scientific research based on theoretical psychics – outlining the study of the very big (theory of relativity) vs. the very small (quantum physics) hopes to captivate our understanding of the past, present and future. Political, economic and social sciences, pay homage to Marxist and fascist theory that also exist to further organize our civilizations into manageable pieces. Our obsession with creating and understanding sciences based on improving our ‘home’ situation are undeniably one of our most sought after human desires. Each and every one of us instinctively believes that we are important, a secondary trait we possess after our struggle for survival has been satisfied.  

It is therefore no surprise that a pensive attitude has been stapled on our vision of the future. Both scientists and architects are drawn to the same questions, why are things as they are and not any different? Challenging assumptions and imagining alternatives can lead to good research and good architecture. Nothing further grasps our understanding of the future better than science fiction film . Science fiction turns to the future as the realm of possibility. Architecture, being omnipresent by nature dictates our environments and how we live in our defined  “home”.  Through the analysis of science fiction film depicted in examples such as blade runner, Metropolis and the matrix, we have an understanding of the film’s observations and expectations of future architecture, that inevitably result in a prediction of societal organization. This takes faithful leaps into creative, yet outlandish scientific advances.

As architects, we make something that does not yet exist, and the figments of our imaginations are realized through two and three-dimensional mediums, that eventually become actuality. Cinema, somewhat unites the relationship between science fiction and architecture. It materializes fantasies, so that we can realize our cognitive desires of the future. Logan’s run (1976), and fritz Langs Metropolis (1926) are cinematic examples of architecturally rich depictions of the future.   

Architecture, like any form of art, lives in a tension between ‘a will to innovate, and its current traditional context it lives by’. It is usually our pragmatic, economic, political and technological limitations that drive our ambitions for innovation.  Yet, ironically, it these very limitations that cultivate our creativity the most, especially in moments of great optimism or great crisis as the saying goes,

“necessity is the mother of invention”.

Architecture and science fiction look to a potential future as a way to solve current day dilemmas. Ultimately, the both serve to answer actual needs of society, a driving force in the culminations of creativity.  In a dialectal relationship, cinema seems to dwell on the rather dystopic theme, where hell becomes more impressive than paradise. Overcrowding, disease, fear, and uncertainties are all characteristics displayed on the dystopic city. The original city to discuss these notions comes from Christopher Nolan’s Gotham city, described as “ an incarnation of urban fears, a distorted metropolis, that is essentially a gothic nightmare – dark, violent and aggressively vertical”.

Dubai’s social context is based on Several Demographics that come from different socio economic, geographic and cultural groups. It is a gateway city of nomadic culture. It is not a permanent city, continuously evolving and changing through time, influenced by an eclectic agglomeration of cultures, a notion that we see repeatedly in science fiction film.  New found wealth in crude oil resulted in a commercial culture that is comparable with mega cities such as Tokyo and London.

However, this has adverse affects on the city as a whole, city planning occurred as it pleased business minds, and the richness of architecture was diluted with Budgets and bankrolls.

Collectively tall standing towers of the city have no immediate identity; it is lost in a jungle of varied architectural styles that are influenced by a vast collection of architectural epochs in time. So what defines the identity of Dubai?

Will its pure orientalist nature take a modern twist? Or are we building with no relevant context, similarly to building openly in space, with non-existent demands of the environment?  

It is a mechanical city; a bustling metropolis, a living and breathing organism characterized with construction sites, gleaming glass super structures and mega highways that tower its cultural identity. It is a city that is dystopic, ruled by cooperation and privatization. It is in this way the policy is manipulated, as similarly depicted in science fiction films such as THX 1138 and blade runner. It is a fascinating culture, one that is associated with a rather conservative eastern influence, juxtaposed by progressive western ideals. The Emirati culture is traditional in nature, sheltering itself from a foreign exterior as a pose to western transparent archetypes.

It is in a frenzy of these conflicting ideas that make Dubai unique over all other countries. Together, the west and east have collectively created a truly unique city, erecting buildings of unparalleled scales that drive innovative engineering feats from Burj Khalifa to man made islands of palm Jumeriah– it is a city that never sleeps,

Due to the accelerated nature of Dubai’s establishment, we have lost the sensation of originality and home. Instead, we experience a more “temporary” stay, unable to become permanent residents of its Middle Eastern soil. We hold a symbiotic relationship with Dubai; Dubai gives you a temporary shelter for a temporary service. It is governed by a totalitarian economic system – a capitalist nation. Business minds and contractors alike are constantly constructing and building, generating billions of dollars in revenues. Social stratification is a key argument we see in dystopic science fiction societies. It contrasts between the privileges of the ruling class and the dreary working class of society that are ironically born out of utopian dreams. Similar to the working class of metropolis, we have implemented a corvée

Working class system in Dubai, hiring third world country workers (predominantly south eastern Asian) to build our city to ensure minimum expenditure costs, after all, how else would Dubai catalyze its productivity? As a result we have a clear and distinct hierarchical society, governed by an Emirati ruling class that relies on high middle class foreign investment that is followed by a bottom labor working class.

It is for these reasons the success of Dubai was unfathomed, a city composed of an eclectic mix of cultures and influences, and its transformation throughout history pays tribute to human’s capability of foreseeing and realizing a science fiction cityscape.   

Dubai Currently faces a dilemma in the face of public spaces. They are defined by opulent malls and commercial districts. Although several beaches and parks are offered to the community, little architecture is realized to emphasize authentic and cultural social communal gatherings.  This is due to the rapid production of towers and buildings; pedestrian walkways are being overshadowed by intimidating and towering structures and the majority of people commune under more sheltered and relaxed atmospheres (such as housing neighborhoods and malls/restaurants). The hot weather impacts the activities of people and of course limits individuals to use indoor structures rather than outdoor, which is usually more popular during the evening/night. Already, we have limited our shared capacities to commercial hubs, and this will only worsen in prospect of future.Although the future is filled with uncertainties, it’s most certainly predicted to be a future of enlightenment and knowledge. The machine age has already struck us once, changing the dynamic of the world profoundly. The future of machines and artificial technology will leave humanity in another seismic paradigm shift, resulting in significantly smaller employment rates.

Machines will control a vast array of vacancies and we will be left with great deal of time to focus on the leisure of arts and sciences. In the midst of a future that is fulfilled with such a technologically frightening impact on humanity, history and the cities’ authentic self is lost. We will begin to react against the un- emotional nature of artificial intelligence that will remind us of the importance of human sentiments and interconnections.

However, we will be less likely to engage in human to human interactions because machines will take over domestic, health care, social conversation and companionship that are usually shared by humans. We are also less likely to leave the house because technology and advancements in architecture will allow us to gain easy access to needs. The idea is to rejuvenate the culture of Dubai and celebrate humanity in a social hotspot that escapes the technological and commercial strongholds of society. Introducing a mixed-use program including an elevated bazaar, a public plaza, open-air local art exhibits and cafes/restaurant helps to recapture the identity of Dubai through science fiction interpretation and motivates the community to celebrate the beauty of human-to-human interaction.

This autonomous public hub will serve the community of Dubai from all walks of life, where demographic, socio political backgrounds and culture is not question. The idea is to propose a structure that breaks free from the commercial and hierarchical ideals of Dubai. This public utopia will accentuate Dubai’s uniqueness and beauty, paying homage to its soaring skylines, infrastructures and traditional culture.


S//A : What’s the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
Sally Michael_ The architecture should serve as an autonomous public hub for people of all walks of life who can comfortably agglomerate without question of any hierarchical or Socio political backgrounds, in the midst of a Dystopic landscape.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
SM_ Travelling the world, theoretical physics, Drawing, Documentaries.

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
SM_ Believe in your work, architecture is an incredibly subjective field, and it does not wait for reassurance from anybody.

S//A : Describe your dream project
SM_ My first realized project, that speaks 100% true to my identity as an architect.