The con­struc­tion in­dus­try has al­ways been a yard­stick to mea­sure a city’s am­bi­tion, but the cities of the fu­ture will need more than iconic build­ings

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The smart cities of the fu­ture will need more than iconic build­ings

When Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Mak­toum com­mis­sioned the Dubai World Trade Cen­tre, it was a state­ment of am­bi­tion as much as any­thing else. Com­pleted in 1979, it was for 20 years the tallest build­ing in the emi­rate, stand­ing sen­try at the apex of the Sheikh Zayed Road, its back to the palaces of Zabeel, and look­ing out to Abu Dhabi, the old port and the trad­ing dis­tricts by the creek. With its ad­join­ing ex­hi­bi­tion halls, it was for many years the prac­ti­cal em­bod­i­ment of the Dubai’s in­ter­na­tional am­bi­tion.

The sky­scrapers on Sheikh Zayed Road got taller and the city stretched out along the coast to­wards the coun­try’s cap­i­tal. When Dubai ran out of coast­line – well, its rulers just made more. Man- made is­lands, 100- storey apart­ment blocks, 99-year lease­holds, and easy ac­cess to credit fu­elled a real es­tate gold rush that trans­formed the city and cre­ated head­lines around the world.

Real es­tate ex­pan­sion was ac­com­pa­nied by mas­sive state in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ments and am­bi­tious in­vest­ment in hos­pi­tal­ity and re­tail projects. The emi­rate seemed ca­pa­ble of build­ing any­thing and every­thing – re­volv­ing in­door ski slopes, un­der­wa­ter ho­tels, and tower blocks shaped like camels were all sug­gested at some point. Look­ing back over 15 years of Con­struc­tion

Week, it is dif­fi­cult to re­mem­ber what the city looked like be­fore we started pub­lish­ing in 2003.

The Dubai Ma­rina was be­ing built. There was no palm is­land, metro, Mall of the Emi­rates, or Burj Khal­ifa. The Burj Al Arab had sur­passed the trade cen­tre as the most iconic build­ing in town.

Some of the same is­sues per­sist within the in­dus­try – late pay­ments, con­tract dis­putes, lack of reg­u­la­tion, and the treat­ment and man­age­ment of labour. The in­dus­try has made tan­gi­ble progress on health and safety, de­sign and build qual­ity, and in some cases, plan­ning.

To­day the con­struc­tion in­dus­try finds it­self at an­other in­flec­tion point. This year, the ran­cour around late pay­ments is at fever pitch; it seems con­trac­tors, con­sul­tants, and de­vel­op­ers are barely on speak­ing terms. Dis­pute res­o­lu­tion prac­tises at law firms are boom­ing.

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion isn’t sus­tain­able. De­vel­op­ers, con­sul­tants, and con­trac­tors all want the same thing – to build as cost ef­fec­tively as pos­si­ble. But to achieve that de­cep­tively sim­ple aim, all par­ties must learn to col­lab­o­rate to an un­par­al­leled de­gree, es­pe­cially if the in­dus­try is to tackle the re­al­i­ties of rapidly chang­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, boom­ing ur­ban­i­sa­tion, mo­bil­ity, fewer re­sources, and fur­ther dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion, engi­neer­ing in­no­va­tion and bet­ter in­te­gra­tion of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy are key to de­sign­ing and con­struct­ing smart, sus­tain­able and de­sir­able cities that peo­ple are es­sen­tially happy to work, live, and play in.

The GCC’s lead­ers have all com­mit­ted to var­i­ous ‘ smart city’ projects as part of their to eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion pro­grammes.

Guess­ing what fu­ture cities look like is a largely fu­tile ex­er­cise, but there is lit­tle doubt­ing the re­gion’s am­bi­tion or the con­tin­ued ap­petite for iconic build­ings. How the in­dus­try part­ners to de­sign and build sus­tain­able, smart, and happy cites, in­clu­sive of all res­i­dents, will pro­vide fer­tile ground for fu­ture sto­ries. We look for­ward to re­port­ing them.

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