Dubai – A City with Organs

Dubai – A city rammed full of organs

Deleuze and Guattari (1987) claimed the city is the striated space par excellence. We are all aware of how urban topographies restrict and contract smooth movement and the chance to drift, and how they direct and enact a routine, a habit, a certain soporificity. The striation is well-entrenched, the city beats with life, and we often hear the city equated to the body. “The heart of the city”, “the veins and arteries of the city” – an apt metaphor for the daily rhythms of urbanity. However, cities negate such a functional and arcane definition. The body works well (most of the time); its systems are efficient, its development is planned, its functioning is central. Cities are none of these things. There exist mutliplicitous powers, confusions, desires, flows, reappropriations, smooth spaces, that lie with striation, as the Lion lies with the Lamb. This mixes, congeals, diffuses and deliquesces people, places and powers into a city without organs, a city with no commensurable life other than that of it’s own.

Enter stage left: دبيّ‎ / Dubai. A city with organs. Lots of them. Whizzing past the taxi window, lumbering architectural giants stand alone (the ability to view a building from 360 degrees still seems strange). Some of these giants are unfinished, in permanent beta states of purgatory. The freezones, castellation of contemporary capitalism enshrine the bustle of businesses; unbreachable, solid pieces of single urbanity designed purely for one purpose; a super-efficient pancreas, producing insulin for the bank vaults. The shopping malls are cathedrals to consumption; iconoclastic, but beautifully serene contemporaneously. The polished marble floors, the incandescence of the artistic installations, the chilling zephyrs from the bowels of the beast entice an experience beyond mere shopping, to one of fidelity of pure consumption. Ice rinks, ski slopes, theme parks, Souks that are luxurious pastiches of Souks too guttural to get any real shopping done.

A cascade of beings superimposed on The Fountain, Dubai Mall

The conduit between one gleaming, air-conditioned dwelling is by car, also air-conditioned, and often gleaming. Roads are the exoskeleton, the highways of in-betweenness, always passing from one part of the city’s complex to the next. The lack of pavements or noted pedestrian culture (well, could you stand the heat?) adds to the deleteriousness of meaning to the roads that only inhabit life when told to do so (such as the JBR walk). One needs a car in Dubai. They are the red blood cells carrying the oxygen of life form one organ to the next.

The transportational arteries of the city

An unfinished, contorted beauty

Dubai has constructed impressive monolithic superscrapers, each with an architectural idiosyncrasy that marks it out from the last to such a uniform distance, that it takes a resembling recourse all of it’s own. Paradoxically, their heterogeneity fuels their homogeneity.  The Burj Kalifha however, stands king among them all. The tallest building in the world, modeled on the hymenocallis stands above the desert, its shadow dancing across the city at will. Peering through the glass on the observation deck on the 124th floor, you can see the city’s organs sprawled out beneath you, an elephant autopsy of glass and steel instead of blood and guts. The cranes on top of unfinished skycrapers are the surgeons knife, slicing open the flesh to reveal the inner-tubings and capillaries inside. You can trace the lines of transport, intersections that have a symmetrical beauty, the highway and the metro lines side by side, neatly packaged, never traversing. Speaking of public transport, the gleaming monorail that typifies the elegant vacuity of the Palm Jumeirah, transects the half-finished housing sprawl, stopping at closed stations, gliding over building sites and sliding between beautiful condominiums that are yearning for habitation. Finally stopping at Atlantis, the simulacrum of all things Poseidon. The hotel rises at the edge of the palm like a Bond villain’s opulent ostentatious lair, pervading all of Dubai with it’s orientalist aptitude.

Pinpricks of abandonment litter the sand, although one would imagine not for too long. Empty shells of previous grandeur allude to a fleeting history of functionality, now lost to the frantic ether of Dubai’s relentless progress. The aptly titled ‘Amnesia’ nightclub now lies an empty shell of a building devoid of any intimacy by a distinct lack of neighbours. The interior still littered with the decaying, dust-covered artifacts of an oasis of musical hedonism in the harsh desert scape. It’s mere presence only serving to ossify the rest of the city’s working parts; a dead cyst on the city skin.

Amensia – the city’s forgotten simulacra

Inside the forgotten

A city without organs? That is the pursuit of us urban theorists. However, for Dubai, the permeable membranes of the city’s separate parts are connected, but it belies the cacophony of complexity and cataclysmic connectivity. Yes, this city certainly does have organs.


  1. Chris Gibson · June 6, 2012

    Hey Oli – reminds me of Jakarta shortly after the Asian Financial Crisis – less ‘organs’ than freaky skeletons of unfinished skyscrapers amidst vast swathes of slum districts. Bare bones of raw capitalism rotting in the heat!

  2. Oli · June 7, 2012

    Indeed, the metaphor can be extended to a lot of cities currently – I’ve often disliked bodily metaphors of cities (always preferred rhizomes myself), but Dubai really is not rhizomatic at all.

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