Saturday, January 15, 2011

Day 9

Today was the first overcast day since we've been here. We were told it hasn't rained here in over a year, but we saw a little today. When i say a little though, i mean a tiny touch of sprinkling. Nothing substantial. But still, it felt kind of neat, like it was an event or something. We had to meet at 8:15 for our first appointment, so i got up early to get ready and have some time to skype with Jenn. However, our internet was still down when i woke up, so i wasn't able to skype with Jenn at all. Luckily i had slept through the night though and wasn't tired, so it wasn't a problem getting up a little early. We met together in the morning by the pool and got 3 cabs to drive us back to Knowledge Village where Middlesex University is. There is a London based architectural firm there called HDR and we met with the small office of architects to discuss the growth of Dubai and the current status of the construction business. Almost anywhere you go in Dubai these days, you will see skeletons of large buildings all over the place. At one point during the boom of the development, skyscrapers were being built just to be built. They were popping up all over the place with the "if you build it, they will come" mentality. It is estimated that about 20% of the office and apartment buildings in Dubai are still empty. Just there waiting to be filled. The construction business has all but come to a halt here since the credit crunch of 2009. Most of the projects are on stand still, making the landscape on the outskirts of the coastline look like a high rise graveyard. Patrick is the office manager for HDR Dubai. He is a bald guy with a goatee, fairly short, and from Ireland originally so i like the way he talks and his accent. He tells us that funding is stalled for several of the projects his office is working on, but that they are still very busy with projects in Abu Dhabi. He shows us a slide show of the projects they are working on. They are constantly looking for a futuristic way of designing buildings, and they show us some pretty cool things. Most of the other students don't seem to care much, so I ask most of the questions with these guys, but i really am interested in what they are doing. The speed in which they operate out here is astounding. It is largely due to the lack of red tape they would need to go through in the states or Europe and for the rapid pace of growth demanded by the government and other clients. Patrick tells us it takes about half the time to finish a project here as it would in the U.S. That's pretty amazing when you think that many of these projects are built in as little as 12 months. Of course, when you build so much so fast, you can run into liquidity problems, which is exactly what happened when Dubai ran out of money in 2009. I am sure things will rebound for Dubai, and Patrick seems confident that things are on the rise.

The team at HDR rents a couple cabs for the day and takes us out to one of their current projects called Dubiotech. It's a research park in the style of Knowledge Village, being built as a hub to attract several research companies to have an office in the middle east. The area is quite large, but lacks buildings as of now. The only one currently built and functioning houses a medical research lab run by an older man from Atlanta. He's a very nice and enthusiastic man and excited to talk to people from the states about the progress they are making there. He looks a lot like Ron Paul, so i already like him. We tour the rest of the building to see that it's mostly
unfinished. Patrick tells us that's the idea, and that the companies that move in will be able to set their offices up anyway they want, which is important based on the type of research being done and the equipment needed. Seems to make sense, and cuts down costs of the architects. Patrick takes us across the street to the Dubiotech headquarters that are being built. HDR designed the building, but like everything else, it's on hold due to lack of funding at the moment. The site should be crawling with workers, but at the moment there are just a few people there to monitor everything. We are taken into the trailer and given hard hats and then make our way up to the site. They load about half of us in a rickety, scary lift that feels increasingly more deadly as it climbs up to the 17th floor. We get off, and the lift goes back down to get the rest of our group. It was nice of them to bring us up here i suppose, but i don't really get the point of it. Maybe to show us the whole area of Dubiotech and where it will reach when it's all completed. The unfinished building we are in is the center of the Dubiotech research park. They talk about some of the challenges they faced, including the truss structure in the middle of the buildings. It's a really unusual shape and require three separate structural engineers evaluating it to convince them it was structurally safe. When the building is done, that will be a conference center as well as hold some retail stores and be a bridge between the two buildings. It is also going to be covered in windows, and the shape of it will make it look like a jewel suspended between the two buildings. Sounds cool, but it looks like it will be a while before we can see it. Some people take the lift back down, while others (including me) take the stairs. This turned out to be not so great an idea because we had to climb over and through scaffolding in several places and walk through points where the stairwell was pitch black. It could have been considered mildly adventurous though, so i didn't mind.

After Dubiotech, Patrick has the cabs drive us all down to the marina walk and he buys us lunch. It was very generous of him to do. However, lunch took a long time and we are late to our next appointment with Patrick, which is a place that has a platinum rating by the LEED system. I don't know anything about the LEED rating system, but apparently it means the building is very environmentally friendly. We are told that getting a platinum rating is extremely hard. This building is the first to get a platinum rating in the Middle East and only the 16th in the world. I am sorry to say i fell asleep in this meeting, so i really didn't get much out of it. I feel bad cuz we show up late and have to skip a lot of their presentation and tour in order to keep our next appointment, and on top of it all, i fell asleep. They probably hate us, but whatever.

Our next appointment is the fun one. We paid 100 dirhams each (about $27) to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa to watch the sunset. The tallest building in the world is 165 stories tall, but people going to the top only get up to the 124th floor where the observation deck is. The ride to the top only takes about 60 seconds, and you can feel your ears popping every few seconds as you go up. On the way down, i counted my ears popping 7 times. The view is pretty awesome. There is no such thing as a clear day in Dubai anymore with the pollution and haze from blowing sand, but today isn't bad. The clouds have cleared away and we are able to see great distances. One of the cool things is the telescopes at the top. They didn't cost anything today for some reason, and they are essentially just a video screen you can point and magnify. They also have 4 settings, a live feed of what you can see right now, a daytime setting to see what it looks like on a particularly clear day during mid-day, a night time setting so see all the lights of the city on a clear night, and a historical setting to see what the area you are looking at looked like only about 10 or more years ago. The picture shown here is looking at the buildings in the background and the historical view of when they weren't there at all. Kind of neat. And of course, the thing we all came for was the sunset, which is shown in the sequence of pictures below. This is looking in the direction of the Burj al Arab, near where we are staying.

Arabian sunset from the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world

The Burj Khalifa is so tall that it was necessary to design it to be able to sway "like a reed in the wind". It is built upon a large spring system in the foundation that allows the building to flex with the wind and rotation of the Earth. Without this feature, the torque on the top of the building would be too great and it would bend or buckle somewhere in the middle, eventually failing and the whole thing would topple over. The top of the Burj can sway up to 1 meter in any direction. Pretty amazing. The view from the outside observation deck shows the city that lies north of the Burj Khalifa. The cluster of buildings lining Sheik Zayed road is known as the financial district of Dubai. Here is a picture of the financial district before sunset and a little while after when the lights of the city begin to come on. We are told that you can watch the sunset from the ground and then ride the elevator up to the top of the Burj to watch it set again. You'd have to be very fast and be able to cut all the lines first though, because it takes a while to get through security and into the elevator. Looking toward the east from the observation desk, you can see the city begin to sprawl into the desert. You can also see the Dubai mall directly below and see just how large it really is. We went to the mall when we got down, but it's not very impressive outside the fact that it's enormous. They have basically all the same stores as the Mall of the Emirates as well as many many more. A lot of people in our group went through the huge aquarium they had in there, but i got my fill of fish at Atlantis and didn't want to spend the money. Marisol, Danielle and i walked around and looked at shops for a while. We ended up in a giant candy store like Dilan's in NYC, but with less of a selection. I got a container of candy for Jenn since i have been bad at buying gifts. I'm pretty bad at getting souvenirs in general. Once everyone else got out of the aquarium, we got a little dinner at Taco Bell, the only one in all the UAE. Kind of a novelty i suppose. No one ate very much though because we planned to go out when we got back. Danielle's 21st birthday is tomorrow and she wants to get a drink at midnight. So after we leave the mall, we get cabs and head back home. At this point, the internet has been fixed and i am able to get on skype and talk to Jenn for a bit. I tell her about Masdar and wanting to look into living there. I thought it would be a hard sell, but she seems pretty open to the idea. It would be something we'd really have to look into. Josie asks me if she can meet Jenn, so she, Mariella, and Danielle come in and say hi. Jenn didn't seem as happy to meet them. She said she looked like a bum.

After i talk with Jenn, we all walk over to the Madinot across the street. Danielle calls Khalid, who comes to meet up with us. We sit outside at the sheesha bar and order some food and wait till midnight so Danielle can get a drink. She has to argue with the bar tender about her birthday and finally gets let it. Once we all finish our food, we head back home and i get Khalid to show me a few ways to tie my head scarfs that i bought. At this point though, it was well after midnight, so i sat down to work on the computer for a bit and then went to sleep.