Sunday, December 06, 2009

Preserve, renovate, rebuild?

The other day I took the Metro into Bur Dubai and then had to go across into Deira, so naturally I walked down to the Creek and took the abra across.

The walk took me through Bastakiya, the original part of Dubai that's being 'preserved' by the Municipality.

I'd been in Old Town at Burj Dubai the day before and as I walked through Bastakiya I was comparing the two areas in my mind, and remembering what the old parts of town had been like when I was first here in 1977.

I always carry a little pocket digital camera with me, so I'd taken some photographs in Old Town and I took more in Bastakiya.

I've been rummaging through the few 'old Dubai' shots I have with me - the majority are in store back in Oz - and I'll start with a couple of those, taken in 1978.

Looking across from Deira, it used to be like this:

In both Bur Dubai and Deira there were still plenty of the old buildings, complete with their windtowers, barjeel in Arabic. They were a kind of air-conditioning system, long before electricity was available. They caught the breeze and directed it down into the house.

Narrow alleyways and sand rather than paved footpaths, easy to walk on though because it had been trodden down so hard over the years.

The buildings were basically mud walled, reinforced with lumps of coral. Some of that has been preserved in the renovated Bastakiya, but only in small patches:

Some of the restoration work looks almost authentic:

But a lot of it doesn't. It's all too neat and tidy, there's far too much very obvious concrete, the footpaths are very modern, even in the narrow alleyway sections:

And a lot of it looks, well, modern:

In a strange way the brand new Old Town at Burj Dubai almost feels more authentically old than Bastakiya:

I wonder what the Bastakiya 'preservation' thinking is.

The old buildings presumably couldn't be renovated and preserved, they weren't bult of material that would lend itself to that. But I think it's a shame that the final finish on the buildings, the veneer, doesn't look older, doesn't look more like the original buildings. The modern paved walkways could have been much more like the original alleyways too.

Having said that, it's still an area well worth a visit. There are plenty of interesting little art galleries, museums, restaurants for example, all housed in the recreated buildings. In that sense the Municipality has done a great job, it's a fascinating area to spend time exploring.


Shalini said...

I agree, Bastakiya is one of the few places in Dubai that has some depth to it. We were there yesterday too and I was surprised at how quiet it was....without the usual Saturday souk.

the real nick said...

The reason is that Bastakiya has been (almost) devoid of 'normal' life for some time now. I remember the area when I first arrived in Dubai in 1997. There were still some families (and quite a few labourers) living in the old houses, the odd goat wandering around, children playing in the alleyways. It's now become a sterile art gallery land. ON the other hand, "Old Town" has been perceived as a mixed use residential development, with no money spared on kitschy pastiche ornaments. It surely feels only more 'authentic' in the way Disneyland is truer to King Ludwig of Bavaria's romanticism than a real castle...
Both areas in my opinion lack authentic streetlife.

the real nick said...

By the way -sorry to ramble on- 'rebuilding' in the old style contravenes the 'Charter of Venice' on restauration and renovation. (As if Dubai plays by the rules of any international Charter..)
According to this acknowledged and accepted best practice one should make damages to original structures and all efforts of renovation obvious and clearly identifyable. Any constructive rebuilding should be done with materials as close to the original ones as possible. Indeed, properly constructed mud houses, with the right maintenance, could easliy outlive many new buildings that go up in Karama or JBR.

Dubai Jazz said...

Title inspired by the new American strategy for Afghanistan, eh, Seabee? :)

On another note, I wonder what do you think of this:

Seabee said...

"Both areas in my opinion lack authentic streetlife." I couldn't agree more Nick, that only comes with a place developing naturally, like Bur Dubai, Deira, Satwa. Knock it down to rebuild it and you also destroy that natural life.

Jazz, the heading does fit the other story, I hadn't thought of that.

As for the racism link you gave, media, politicians and talkback radio hosts on the far right have always done what's discussed in the article, which is a factual comment on it. It's all part of the fear tactic that the far right has always used to push its agenda.

Anonymous said...

Your photo of the art cafe reminds me of the hard time I had finding Bastakiya on my visit to Dubai. No one in that area of downtown could tell me where it was. It was a scalding hot day and when I finally found it, I think eating at that cafe saved my life, as I drank lots and lots of water!

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right Seabee, Bastakiya, even if totally restored, has a genuine taste like no other place in Dubai and it's able to give a sense of happy satisfaction; two days ago I was there with my italian relatives and they found the place ”absolutely true to form”.
Even the Sharjah heritage and arts area has an authentic feeling: these are the real UAE's locations where time's standing still.

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