Dubai: Buy into a virtual reality

It's architectural style and development ambition cannot be described as understated
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The Independent Online

It is building the world's largest waterfront development, the world's largest residential tower and the world's largest aircraft hangar. It is creating the world's largest area of reclaimed land, the world's largest artificial coastline and the world's largest shopping mall. And it is doing all of them at the same time.

It was not always like this. Until the late 19th century Dubai was best known as a transit point for traders going from Iraq to Oman, and between India, east Africa and the northern Gulf. Its old architecture reflected this - clearly Arabic, and Europe.

Minarets on mosques dominated the skyline in the 20th century until a population explosion in the 1970s, when multi-national companies were welcomed in to farm Dubai's limited oil wealth and high-rise buildings began to appear. But until the 1980s the largest building was the 39-storey Dubai World Trade Centre.

That appears dated and low-rise when compared with the hundreds of towers currently under construction. These are set to fulfil Dubai's ambition of housing 2.2 million residents by 2010, to maximise overseas income (to compensate for the relative shortage of oil compared with the United Arab Emirates' six other regions), and to become a global trade, finance and entertainment centre.

The new Dubai, blending Singapore's modernity and Manhattan's skyline, makes a virtue of using chrome, glass and concrete, and is building higher and quicker than any other city in the world.

One of Dubai's leading developers, Nakheel, calculates that over 100 towers of 25-storeys or more, mostly residential, will be completed between now and next July; another 100 will follow by Christmas 2006.

And they do not all look the same...

The Palm

The Palm is in fact three artificial islands (Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, and Palm Deira) each built to represent a date palm tree and consisting of a trunk, a crown with fronds, and a crescent island that acts as a breakwater. The islands are still being finished, with 10,000 villas and apartments covering the fronds that have led to some criticism of over-density. On completion the trunks will have more than 60 hotels as well as theme parks, shopping malls and cinemas. The crescents which surround each palm act as breakwaters able to withstand waves of up to four metres high. All apartments have been sold although some resales are available.

Details from:

Fairmount Palm residence

On the approach to the Palm Jumeirah lies Fairmont, a huge complex of 558 apartments and townhouses linked to a nearby five-star hotel that can provide management and cleaning facilities for owners. This is the nearest to a conventional North American-style resort in Dubai, yet Fairmont remains a testimony to extrovert design. Aside from the apartments - claiming to be 40 per cent larger than comparable developments - there are grand waterfalls, floating dining pavilions, water cascades, private berths, spa-islands, a children's play island, multi-level swimming pools and more. Properties start at approximately £300,000 for a one-bedroom property, £475,000 for three bedrooms and £800,000-plus for penthouses. Fairmont sits at the end of the Dubai Golden Mile, a vast shopping centre with 60,000 square metres of retail space.

Details from: Fairmont apartments on sale through Savills, 020-7016 3753 and details on

The World

Genius or folly? Due to be completed next year, The World is a £1bn-collection of 300 islands, each ranging from 250,000 to 900,000 sq ft in size, with 50 to 100 metres of water between each one. The total "globe" will cover a total area of 5.4 miles by 3.6 miles, surrounded by an oval-shaped breakwater. The islands are two miles off the shore of Jumeirah, close to the Palm Jumeirah, between Burj Al Arab and Port Rashid. The only means of transportation between the islands will be boat. Each "country" is being sold to private developers who are expected to put resorts on most islands, although four have already been allocated as theme islands - one each for ecology, food, golf and history - and the developer claims it will ensure The World is "a balanced mix of commercial developments and private investment".

Details from:

Burj Dubai

This "super tower", which is tipped to become the world's tallest residential building upon completion, includes a 172-room Armani Hotel; roughly one floor per week is being completed by the 2,000 employees currently on site, and the developer, Emaar, is refusing to reveal its eventual height. It is scheduled to be completed in 2008 and will include 152 apartments. Within the complex there will also be the world's largest entertainment and shopping mall, called The Boulevard, and a series of man-made lakes and landscaped parks. "We are creating a new architectural landmark for global property developers. The project reflects the dynamic growth of Dubai's real estate sector making it the favoured place to live, work and invest," says Emaar. UK estate agent Cluttons is selling two, three and four-bedroom apartments. Prices from £550,000 to £2.2m.

Details from: Cluttons, 020- 7647 7142 or

Laguna Tower

Described as "a high-rise aquatic environment" the 40-storey Laguna Tower is one of the few Dubai developments that is accessible by boat as well as by land. The waterfront development is scheduled for completion in 2007. It will have one, two- and three-bedroom units on each level and is aimed at a business market. It will be situated close to Dubai's Media and Internet Cities - where a string of international corporations have their Middle East bases. The facilities at Laguna Tower will include a 24-hour business centre, concierge and the option of hotel cleaning and management of your apartment. This building is part of Jumeirah Lake Towers, a community of 69 towers - not all residential - built around a lake. The developer is Kuwait-based International Financial Advisors Company (IFA), which has tourist and business centres in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Details from: Savills, 020-7016 3753 and at

This 50-storey apartment building overlooking Palm Jumeirah has been designed by WS Atkins and Partners, the Surrey-based architect responsible for the Burj Al Arab hotel (the one that looks like a boat sail) further down the coast. Each of Le Rêve's storeys will be either a single six-bedroom apartment ranging from 13,400 sq ft to 15,000 sq ft or, for those unable to pay the typical £2.5m-plus price tag, some storeys can be split into two smaller flats. All apartments will have uninterrupted sea views while some will have terraces capable of accommodating 300 people. The new marina being will have 11 kilometres of waterfront.

Details from: Colliers international homes and investments, 020-7487 1978, or

Marina Quays

Dubai Marina is the latest and largest suburb to be built in Dubai, and aims to be the world's largest waterfront development. It is under construction along a two-mile stretch of Dubai's shoreline, will include canals "in the Venetian tradition" according to its architects, and by 2015 will be home to 200 tower blocks accommodating 120,000 people. "Dubai Marina is quite literally a city within a city. On completion it will offer a cosmopolitan marina lifestyle, access to international restaurants, beach resorts, nightclubs, health spas. It's also close to Internet City, the American University of Dubai and the main Dubai to Abu Dhabi highway," says Alex Upson of Cluttons, who are selling properties in one of the first towers, Marina Quays, from £110,000 for a one-bed apartment, £175,000 for a two-bed and £210,000 for a three-bed apartment.

Details from: Cluttons, 020-7647 7142 or

Lakeshore Towers

Designed by Khatib and Alami, Lebanon's most famous architects, who have created iconic buildings in most countries of the Middle East, this 44-storey block (still under construction) is located within the Jumeirah Lakes project between Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Islands. There will be over 200 apartments ranging from 505 sq ft studios and 900 sq ft one-bedroom apartments, to four bedroom penthouses with 4,000 sq ft of interior space. Unlike many apartment blocks in Dubai, this is being extensively marketed as a family location - at least for buyers of the largest units - with a health club, swimming pool, children's playground, restaurants and cafés and 24-hour security. This is the first of a group of five towers to be built; they will share the facilities and management services. Prices from £76,000 to £500,000.

Details from: Savills, 020-7016 3753 and

Compiled by Graham Norwood