Darryl Chen, 01 12 08


Reinier de Graaf presented OMA’s Ras-Al-Khaimah project to a packed audience last thursday for the Architecture Foundation in London. After a characteristically thrilling account of global urban affairs effectively narrated by statistic and graph, the talk turned to the patronisingly-titled “city in the desert” project (as though we could describe London as a “city by the river”), bringing on what could be described as one of those “Elvis has left the building” moments.

OMA’s reading of Dubai as a study in banality has its response in the banal urban proposition for RAK, though in this case, banality is not the insistent cultural phenomenon of Dubai’s skyline, but rather the unashamed rolling out of the urbanist’s stock-in-trade – “compact city” densities, a public transport loop, and (yawn) the accommodation of a naturally occurring oasis. The mediocrity of this proposition is nowhere near recovered by its context-less square plan and generic city grid, tired emblems of what may be late-OMA mannerism. This is a scheme so mediocre it begs the question – what happened to one of the most intellectually engaging self-critical practices on the planet? 


Foster with his Masdar development will run a well-rehearsed script of climate-responsive, energy-saving technology with uncontestable pragmatism and unflinching conviction. KEO and the other anonymous multidisciplinary behemoths will continue to turn over skyscraper, business park, resort and shopping mall with unrelenting capability. Within this spectrum, OMA has seemingly been squeezed out of any engaging design response. Perhaps the speed with which they are now forced to operate has defeated them, demoting them into just another design firm on the world city speaking circuit.


Add your own

  • 1. kangnar  |  December 18th, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Is your argument that OMA’s reading of dubai is too generic? Is that it?

  • 2. Darryl Chen  |  December 19th, 2008 at 7:46 am

    Read again. OMA’s reading of Dubai is of a culture of icon-making ironically leading to a sense of banality. My critique of OMA at Ras-Al-Khaimah is that its banality derives from a lack of innovation in the field of urbanism. Not bad urbanism, mind you, just something short of what we’ve come to expect from these audacious brains. A tram line, pooled carparking and higher densities are the tools of any kid urban designer with a pen and a masters degree.

  • 3. mrkona  |  December 21st, 2008 at 2:30 am

    I would have to agree with the post. As a Western-qualified Landscape Architect working in the UAE for a multidisciplinary firm, I am constantly frustrated at the ill-conceived plans and images we have to turn into a desirable reality.

    Whether it’s a lack of time (likely) or a lack of vision (surely not), it is disappointing to be presented with yet another uninspiring Masterplan for yet another uber-development.

    Strength of character, a convincing argument, and the courage to stand-up and say no should be prerequisites for working in this region as it’s the only way change will happen…

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