7 oct 08 | The Chicago Tribune

Chicago architects plan more towers in Dubai

By Blair Kamin

Against a backdrop of nose-diving world markets, it sounds like a comic book fantasy: Three closely bunched, mega-skyscrapers would shoot in the sky, connected by skybridges and grand arches. A tower of light would knife into the sky between the buildings. Canal boats would glide underneath.

Crazy? Perhaps. But this is Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, already home to artificial palm-shaped islands and the world's tallest structure. There, one developer Sunday made public plans for an even-taller, mixed-use skyscraper, one that that would rise to a height of roughly 3,281 feet-easily taller than two Sears Towers stacked on end.

On Monday, Chicago architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill announced that another Dubai-based concern, Meraas Development, has commissioned them to design the trio of towers, as well as three other projects, all worth a total of roughly $15 billion.

Smith's credits include the world-record, still-to-be-completed Burj Dubai, a mixed-use tower now nearing its final height of about 2,600 feet.

He shaped that skyscraper while at the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. In a telephone interview Monday from Dubai, Smith sounded optimistic that the projects would go ahead because of Dubai's sizzling economy and shortage of office space there.

He acknowledged, however, that a global slowdown could stop them. "There is a national drive here-and has been for five to six years-to make Dubai the first real major city of the 21st Century," Smith said. "Part of that plan is a belief that if you build it, they will come."

The four projects are:

  • 1 Dubai, which will consist of three interconnected towers, each taller than 2,000 feet, housing hotels, offices, shops and condominiums. The mega-structure would have more than 13 million square feet, making it one of the world's largest as well as tallest complexes. The developer still must acquire land, Smith said.
  • 1 Park Avenue, another mixed-use tower that would rise about 1,800 feet, its undulating form evoking Dubai's heritage of pearl trading. The project would contain more than 4 million square feet of offices, condominiums, apartments and hotel rooms. Excavation has begun, Smith said.
  • Park Gate, which would consist of six midrise towers arranged in facing pairs, creating a shaded garden space comparable to Middle Eastern markets. The mixed-use project would allow energy from one building to be shared with another. Foundation work has begun, Smith said.
  • Meraas Tower, a mixed-use skyscraper, about 1,800 feet tall, combining hotel space, offices and living units. The developers need to buy and clear the site, Smith said, and construction won't start for two years.