From Traditional to Modern: Architectural Styles Shaping Masonry Work in the UAE

What do you think of first when you hear about the UAE? Of course, skyscrapers that reach the sky, amazing hotels that look more like palaces, museums that conquer with their design… Nowadays, the United Arab Emirates has become one of the richest countries in the world, where ancient legends and fairy tales have come to life, and palaces, gardens, and mosques with minarets that amaze the imagination have emerged on beautiful man-made islands. The architecture of the UAE is what sets this country apart from others, what makes it recognizable, desirable for travelers and so special. You can go to Layboard and read more. 

Local buildings receive many awards at global competitions. The most famous and talented architects, builders, and masons work on creating local masterpieces. 

Historical note

The medieval architects of the Arab East created new types of monumental religious and secular buildings: 

  • mosques – places of prayer and worship, Muslim houses of worship; 
  • minarets – towers from which believers are called to prayer; 
  • madrassas – Muslim theological schools;
  • mausoleums – monumental funeral buildings containing a chamber with the remains of the deceased and a memorial hall. 

The characteristic buildings include palaces of rulers, caravanserais (rest houses on the trade route), covered markets, and fortresses with gates and towers.

The modern architecture of the United Arab Emirates is a dialog between the latest high-tech architecture and the traditions of regional heritage.

The skyscrapers soaring hundreds of meters in height and the majestic religious buildings, the most famous of which are the Abu Dhabi Tower, the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai, and the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, are impressive.

The formation of a modern urban environment required an appropriate architecture that could only be offered by the Western model of an industrial city: the Muslim world did not have such a resource. Such large capitalist centers as Chicago and New York were taken as models.

The Western architects who came to the Arabian Peninsula used their usual construction techniques in a completely different cultural environment and climatic conditions. High-rise towers growing literally out of the sand seem like a mirage in the reality of the Arab world. Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, where the frame system was first used, has gone through a series of evolutionary turns to take the form of a skyscraper rising and finding itself in the Middle East, in the middle of the desert.

Dubai architecture

Dubai is demonstrating its economic prosperity and geopolitical power – its high-rise urban construction, as always, is unprecedented in scale and grandeur. “What’s good for business is good for Dubai” was the motto of Emir Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who in the late 1950s invited British architect John R. Harris to create an urban plan for Dubai on the site of an almost bare desert. Their collaboration, the meeting of different mentalities, is the city’s DNA.

In 1979, Harris built his first architectural dominant symbol, the World Trade Center. For the first time in the emirate’s construction practice, the motifs of traditional Islamic architecture were masterfully used on its facade, in this case, a muqarnas – an element resembling a honeycomb.

The technique was then repeated by another Briton, Brian Johnson (architect GAJ, Godwin Austen Johnson), whose iconic Dubai Creek Golf Club, depicted on the dirhams, resembles a traditional dhow sailing boat. The architectural evolution of the emirate spans from the first significant buildings to the upcoming projects of Expo 2020, the Dubai Pearl technology cluster, and individual “pearls” such as the 828-meter-high record-breaking Burj Khalifa (architect SOM).

One of the most ambitious projects in the history of the UAE, the Dubai Pearl cluster is being built opposite the Palm Jumeirah island on an area of 1.4 million square meters (!). Hamburg-based SAA Schweger Architekten and Arup have created a real “city within a city” that is applying for LEED Gold certification. A complex with an unusually large green area for the UAE (the proportion of buildings and parks here is 50/50) in the TECOM (Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone) free economic zone.

Dubai stretches along the Persian Gulf coast, sandwiched between water and desert sands, and is developing along the bay and inland thanks to the creation of several artificial islands. The main transportation artery of the city is Sheikh Zayed Street, a wide, powerful avenue that connects all the city’s districts.

As in the sixties, Western-style residential architecture is built for foreign professionals from Europe and America, while the locals themselves prefer to live in low-rise buildings with large families, following traditions. This differentiation determines the appearance of the city, where skyscraper districts rise sharply above the mass of similar villas of indigenous Arabs.

Planted on the local Arab soil, the architecture of the western metropolis does not take root, and the high-rise areas remain the place of residence for tourists and expatriates, while also serving to attract foreign vacationers and professionals to the city. Accordingly, the function of the new buildings going up into the sky is determined by the needs of the urban environment: as in the 60s, the bulk of the buildings are offices and apartments.

The entire architecture of Dubai seems to exist despite the climate, natural terrain, environment, and culture of the local population. The city, a creation of human hands and scientific developments, extensively encroaches on the bay and desert sands, creating an artificial environment.

Reminiscent of the utopian projects of the modernist era, Dubai is becoming a kind of city of a bright future, where man will be able to tame the natural elements with the help of technological progress and finally create an urban paradise on Earth. A paradise where all the best, most luxurious, and most belong to the local people and makes them proud, a paradise that attracts crowds of tourists hungry for spectacles and wanting a comfortable life and well-paid expatriate jobs.