Disneyfication, some call it – a brand new development designed to look like architectural relic. Done well, designed and executed artfully, it can be magical and not leave you feeling “cheated” by architectural dishonesty. What I think is key is attention to detail and not subverting key elements for the sake of economy or scale. Where this is done quite well in Dubai, in my estimation, is at the new AL SEEF development on Dubai Creek (by Meraas) and at Madinat Jumeirah, near the Burj Al Arab. Jimmy and I recently went to visit Al Seef (still under construction, but some restaurants are open). The parking is in the “modern” section of the development but as you walk along the waterfront you quickly come to the area paying homage to Dubai’s past.
Al Seef is not yet complete, but it is getting close, and it is fascinating to see the historic “looking” buildings hovering over Dubai Creek with an almost Venice-like feel (which I am now wondering: “Is that authentic?”). The development includes a modern looking section as well, blending “new old” with “new new”. Al Seef will eventually blend right into the true historic district, Bastikaya, and I wonder if some tourists will be confused about where the historic portion is and the “new” portion begins. Some may even ONLY visit the new development and think that they have been to the historic district.
Dubai’s real historic district, which dates back to the 1890s, was scheduled to be razed to make way for new development in the 1980s when a British architect moved to the area, restored the personal dwelling he acquired there, and petitioned for salvation of the remainder of the district (much of which had already been torn down). Prince Charles jumped on the bandwagon, encouraging Dubai to preserve the area, and the historic district was born. Here, today, you can learn about the early history of Dubai at the Dubai Museum, wander among the shady passageways, and visit the Cultural Center for awesome cultural programs. There are some shops, art galleries, and coffee houses.
Al Seef is walkable to the true historic district, but it is a long walk so you will want comfortable shoes and a good map (there is a lot of construction, so some roads are not accessible). But PLEASE do not just go to Al Seef – be sure to see both the “real” historic buildings along with the “new” historic buildings. There is no substitute for authenticity although I DO have a confession to make: in choosing pictures for this blog post, I had trouble distinguishing the Al Seef photos (the new construction) with the Al Fahidi photos (the historic district).