Dubai on the Beach-On Life Style and Beach Culture, Virginie Lefebvre
This paper will develop two ideas to understand why Dubai is creating as many kilometers of beaches as possible and the consequence of those developments.
The rst reason is to attract the wealthy as, in this rst part of the 21st century, the rich are never being richer and are looking for new destination, where they will be safe, being able to spend their enormous fortune, while looking for fun and excitement. This situation is similar to the one that has developedleisure destination during the industrialization in the 19th century, when rich British families created, for example, Nice as a winter destination before i became a summer one. The second idea is that beaches, are still seen as the most desirable destination to spend time with family in the developed world as well a in the developing one. One of the consequences of this type of leisure activity is the constant rede nition of social role and social differences as well as differences based on sex and money. On the beach at some point everybody is equal and it is very dif cult to prevent visual or physical contact.
Dubai is trying to attract tourist, but also investors and their European employees by proposing a alluring life style. This lifestyle is based on the assumption that there is no longer a difference between vacation and work. This lifestyle could potentially rede ne relations between men and women in a Muslim society, where they are traditionally separated. It may as well become a common ground for the different classes of the society. Working and living conditions are especially dif cult for the emigrates who are working low paid jobs, but the access to most of the beaches is free or very cheap. As Margaret Crawford has suggested in Urban Design Now, the public doesn’t exist, one should speak about a different public. The beach as a public space was since it was invented open to every public, but under the banner of the elite public and the doctor who were supposed to teach them to behave.
Dubai is designing the set and the scene for that purpose. Water in all shapes and forms, from seaside, swimming pool, fountains, spa, beaches both private and public becomes synonymous with pleasure, beauty and endless summer in traditional as well as in our post industrial cultures. Inside or outside, naturalor arti cial, water is Dubai`s strength and paradox. It is a paradox not only because Dubai is located near the desert, but also because of prevailing issues of sustainability.
Contrary to the assumption that everything is gated and privatized in Dubai, the design of the shore is offering real and unique public spaces. Public beaches, a beach park and an urban port deserve studies. But before describing it, I will return brie y to the invention of seaside resort in order to trace the possible origins of some of Dubai’s spatial characteristics.
Dubai itself is inviting us to do so. I saw in January 2006 an exhibition for a commercial event in a mall advertised with a fake old poster of Nice, which was invented as a winter destination by the British in the mid 18th century.
When seaside resorts were a medical
Before Nice became a fashionable destination, according to the French historian Alain Corbin , the seashore was a place for shermen and sailors; it was not a place for leisure. Seaside in Europe was considered as dangerous, synonymous of death. Cliffs, and beaches were places for workers. Nobody knew how to swim and travelling by ship was always a bit hazardous. The water was considered a support for commercial and shing activities, and occasionally a site for warfare.
At the end of the 18th century, seaside towns began to be developed as winter, and later in the 19th century, as summer resorts. Doctors were at the origin of the passion for seawater. They wrote books on the bene t of drinking seawater. Also, they defended the idea that the air from the seashore could heal serious diseases like tuberculosis, and even nymphomania! Physicians joined forces with developers to attract the rich and famous. Spas were the rst cities to capitalize on their relation with the water to attract tourists and to use advertisement on a large scale, like Dubai is now doing to attract visitors.
Piers appeared with the railroad in the 1880s to attract visitors to new resorts. Such infrastructures originated in England and spread everywhere. They were multi-purpose infrastructures providing attraction for as many as 2,000 people, with kiosks for music, cafes, restaurants and stores. They displayed sometimes curiosities such as the skeleton of a giant whale, included a Casino or a roller coaster. One had to pay to have access to the platform, which was both an amusement park and a physical experience of being in the middle of the sea without sailing. Also piers offered a new point of view onto the shore. One can compare the view of Dubai from the palm leaf islands to a renewed version of the British piers experience.
Dubai is not only providing picturesque beaches, it is also building connections between city and water. Claude Prelorenzo, a French sociologist, has argued convincingly, that, for the Modern Movement, the ideal city was green, whereas for the postindustrial society, it has to be blue, positioned along the water under a permanently sunny sky. This is also one of the reasons why the mayor of Paris organized Paris-Plage, or Paris- Beach to attract Parisians and tourists by transforming the city into a fake seaside resort. To live near the water and with a view is a common desire for inhabitants of London, Montreal, Amsterdam, Boston, New York or Rio de Janeiro.
However, it is necessary to question the reason of this role given to the water. First, overall, the sea stands as one of the last wild and natural spaces. Also, water in a lot of cultures is synonymous with life and birth. The presence of water in design is not new. For example, water in Arabic gardens such as the Alhambra in Grenada is as important as vegetation. Water changes its meaning after transformation of commercial ports in urban places. There is often a contradiction between the rational character of the quays and the desire for wilderness.
At least four different types of relation with the water are proposed in Dubai: a picturesque one (all fantasies islands and canals), we just looked at, an historic one, in a natural port called the Creek, a contemporary one, the beaches (Jumeira and Al Mamzar park), and an urban port type. These different relations function like a unique infrastructure, over and under the ground, which is generating a large and irregular grid, where residential and office development take place. The water management is especially difficult, as most of the water is coming from the sea on a sandy ground.
One of the problem of beaches for designers since their invention as a public space was their lack of social barrier. At first, in Normandy, beaches for men and women were separated, but it was difficult to prevent the access of undesirables from the sea. For that reason the beach could be a model of interaction of different public, socially and sexually. In the context of Dubai it is true that the public space offered by the beach seems to be occupied by everybody.
On the other side of the Creek, the right bank, the Deira side, one can find Al Mamzar Park, which provides beaches planted with palm trees users have access to a free dedicated parking, restaurants, public facilities, cafés and to a shaded zone barbecue area. One can use the beach until 11pm at night and swim at night under the electric light. At Al Mamzar, men and women, European or not, seem to stay nearby in swimming suits. There are not a lot of Emirates though, but some of them were preparing a barbecue, and I saw a number of expatriates playing basket ball. The ambiance was quiet, evocative of a sunny paradise along the ocean.
As a conclusion, I will ask the question of the evolution of beaches as the main public space in Dubai. Nowadays it seems that there is still something in common between people of different cultural and social origin at least along the beaches I visited. As long as the status will be maintain, those spaces will play the role of a quiet and possible common ground, as every body have access to the beach for leisure. Already tourists and emirates are complaining about the indecent attitudes and irregular uses of the less educated, the poor, the unwelcome expatriates. As we know from history, beaches may be closed and reserved to a certain public. In South Africa beaches were segregated during the Apartheid, when it was not possible they were just forbidden for the black and Indian population and reserved to the white only. In Cuba, in Varadero, beaches are privatized and their access is forbidden to anybody, and especially Cuban, who is not a guest in the nearby hotels. In Dubai, the construction of thousand of kilometers of private shore, will accentuate the imbalance, rich, European and poor workers won’t probably share the same beaches anymore. The welcoming and glamorous mix of people lying on the sand will become an image of the past. This may provoke a violent reaction, described in one of Michel Houellebecq‘s novel, where terrorists, because of the indecent behaviors of Western tourists, attack a private beach.
teaches courses in urban design at the GSD Harvard University. She has been professor of architecture and urban design at the Ecole d’Architecture in Ver- sailles, France. She is the author of La Grande Arche de la Defense (1989) with Francois Chaslin, Paris- ville moderne (2003), and has directed Les espaces publics modernes (1995). In 1988, she founded with Claude Prelorenzo a research group, le GRAI, to study the relationship between architecture and in- frastructure. She is working curently on the subject of tourism in the desert.Sincerely