The Architecture of Dubai


Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

Prior to seeing Dubai for myself, I had heard many different accounts from various people who had been there. They differed wildly, but now that I have been there myself I agree with all of them. Dubai is a place of contradictions, where cultures and styles clash unapologetically. This is no more evident than in the architecture. It’s like a group of ten year olds have  been let loose with the worlds biggest bucket of Lego. In Dubai, if you can dream it, someone will probably let you build it.

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Huge skyscrapers of every conceivable shape and made from glass and steel house apartment blocks and hotels. Other hotels are built to look more traditional, their clean designs and too-perfect attention to detail making me feel I was in Las Vegas rather than Dubai. There is a definite obsession with building the biggest and the most impressive. If any other city tries to compete with Dubai to build a taller tower or a more expansive shopping mall, I’m sure they’ll immediately retaliate and go one further. This is where the boundaries of architecture are pushed to their most extreme limits.

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I took lots of photos of buildings that caught my eye in Dubai, which was pretty much constant. It seemed to me, though, that no-one in Dubai is looking at the bigger picture. Each of these buildings is an impressive feat of architecture and construction, but there is no thought to how the buildings fit next to each other, or how the city works as a whole. It’s great that Dubai has attracted all these architects and developers, but I can’t help thinking maybe they should have brought in a town planner at a much earlier stage.

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The construction is ongoing, and with a huge desert to build on who knows what Dubai will look like in ten or twenty years. It’s going to be a long time before they have to think about knocking anything down to create more space. For now, if you’re prepared to accept the pedestrian crossings that lead to nowhere and routes that do anything but take you directly where you need to be, Dubai is a place that will make you look up and say ‘wow’.


The Architecture of Portland

Just like the street art of Sacramento had stood out for me, so too did the architecture of Portland. The city has many neighbourhoods that are hugely different from each other, and the designs of the buildings really reflect that.

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Architecture, Two Ways

I’m mixing my challenges this week. Ailsa’s travel theme is Architecture, and the weekly photo challenge is One Shot, Two Ways.

My first photo is a portrait of some of the new architecture in Cardiff, Central Library and John Lewis department store. When I first moved to Cardiff twelve years ago, this was a main road.


The second shot I took from exactly the same spot, but I focused in on some of the detail on the library building.


It being a Sunday, the city centre was very quiet. The library is usually bustling with people, and the hoop sculpture full of kids competing with each other to see who can climb the highest.

Click here to see other entries from the weekly photo challenge, and here to check out the architecture entries on Where’s my backpack?.

Cardiff Castle Animal Wall

One of my missions is to visit at least one new place every year. My hope is that this blog inspires other people to explore new destinations too. I currently live in Cardiff, or Caerdydd to use its Welsh name, the capital of Wales. There will be lots of visitors who will come to Cardiff for the first time this year, maybe you will be one of them. Just in case you are, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite parts of the city throughout this month.

Wales is a land of myths and legends, full of mystical creatures such as dragons. Which is why it makes it even more special that one of Cardiff’s most cherished attractions includes sculptures of everyday, very real animals.

Today I’m going to share with you some pictures of a local sight here in Cardiff that you could be forgiven for walking straight past without even noticing. It’s right in the middle of the city centre, part of one of our major tourist attractions, yet it’s so well done that it fits right into it’s surroundings and it’s easy to take for granted.

The Cardiff Castle Animal Wall was designed by William Burgess in 1866, but not actually built until after his death. The wall originally stood directly in front of the castle, but was moved when the road was widened in 1922. It’s definitely more at home in it’s current location, I don’t think the modern day drivers would have appreciated navigating the original structure during rush hour! There were plans to widen Castle Street again in the 1970s, and demolish the animal wall altogether, but fortunately for us the idea was abandoned. I’m so glad that they changed their mind and I get to see the wall in situ rather than as photographs in the museum. The animals are referred to locally as ‘the gargoyles’, but they are actually technically grotesques because they don’t spout water. Like gargoyles, though, their job is to protect us.

The original nine animals, sculptured by Thomas Nicholls, were the hyena, wolf, apes, seal, bear, lioness, lynx and two different lions. I think the hyena is my favourite.

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Originally, the nine grotesques were painted in naturalistic colours which was later removed. I’ve never seen any images of what they looked like when painted, but I think I’d prefer the bare stone.

A further 6 animals, sculptured by Alexander Carrick, were added in 1931: the pelican, ant-eater, raccoons, leopard, beaver and vulture.

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Between July and October 2010, the animals were restored as part of a £5.6 million refurbishment of Bute Park. The anteaters missing nose, which had fallen off in the 1990s, was replaced along with the missing glass eyes in the original nine animals.

Even if I don’t always remember to notice them, the gargoyles make me feel protected whenever I walk past Cardiff Castle, and they’re certainly a unique talking point about the city.


Travel theme: Glass

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Glass.

Over the past few years, Cardiff has seen a lot of regeneration. Whole blocks of the city have been knocked down and rebuilt. One of the most impressive, and modern, new buildings to spring up in the city centre is the Central Library, and it’s glass walls allow you fantastic views over the city.


Housing 90,000 books, 10,000 CDs and DVDs, 10,000 Welsh language items, a dedicated floor for children (with the trendiest seating for them to relax and read in) and too many other facilities to mention here, Cardiff Central Library has been designed with everyone in mind. The six-storey building manages to stand out against all the other new builds around it. The area has changed so much that it’s hard to imagine where the previous library once stood. Cardiff library aims to be the first sustainable building in the city, one of it’s features being a grass roof which insulates the building in winter and prevents heat gain in the summer. It also assists in the removal of CO² and other pollutants from the city air.