Dubai is a miracle. Something important is happening – something that we are yet to understand. Caution, opportunism and misrecognition mix in strange proportions as we witness the pure poetry of a city being born before our eyes – a sight that has proved blinding.
At the edge of this miracle we are asked to propose a viewing tower – a tower without program, an aberration in the history of tower design with few precedents outside the city-tower boom of the 60s and 70s. Thus, the critical space of this project is the space between the role of the tower to view back to Dubai as we struggle to recognize what it is we are looking at. For Dubai is a city pregnant with virtuality. This virtuality exists both within and outside the project as the entire context is filled with phantoms – neighbours, site and inhabitants who exist only in the space of production at present and that can and will change continuously in the future.
The only consistency is the climate. The thick atmospheric haze of Dubai compresses all the colour and light into a thin grey bandwidth. The desert sky is remarkable, a surface-less infinite depth, featureless and expansive. This spectral desert atmosphere provides the only comprehensible physical space in which the project occurs. A new atmospheric, spatial and cultural intelligence must provide the space from which the project emerges. Arabic fenestration patterns and visible technological dexterity would locate this project in the space we are trying to reflect upon. The viewing tower, as the sentinel standing by this miracle is formed via a search for an expression of desert-ness.
This quality of desert-ness provides a means via which a section can be taken through the virtual space of the project, using this essence of the landscape and the climate which created it as a poetic lens through which to reconceive Dubai, the lens of the mirage.
The idea of a viewing tower is somewhat paradoxical, standing some 170m tall adjacent to a city which has towers reaching up to 1000m. Formal gymnastics and novelty at this miniature scale will render the project as a curiosity, an eccentric toy quick to be consumed by the scale of development around it, navel gazing into structures which extend to many times its height.
To avoid this problem of the mini-tower, we considered the project as a mirage - from the Latin mirare, ‘to look at, to wonder at’. For Dubai is truly a site of great wonder such that the means of seeing this site provides a critical space for this project. The mirage displaces images of distant objects, bringing into question their location, scale and meaning. Thus the mirage provides a nexus between this question of what we are seeing in Dubai and the intense climate in which the city is located.
The uncertainty and questioning of the mirage tower is elaborated via the use of anamorphism to structure the form of the tower itself. The spherical form of the tower reflects and distorts the cracked, dry surface of its desert site from every direction – providing both a point of intense focus and a continuous projection outward. The tower becomes an essay in the nature of seeing and questioning what we see.
Similarly, the viewing platform is located above a giant reflective surface which literally distorts and reconfigures the view of Dubai – a giant mirror of sorts which reminds us that Dubai’s current form is temporary and will continue to evolve faster than we are able to understand it.