Talk about a dream

The past quickly becomes a dream at best and worst–Dubai Dreamland.

Well, while I was dreaming about walking distance green and blue in local parks…

How does that shopping work if you don’t want to get into your car every day?

And what if I have to be driving through a neighbourhood and need to shop?

…safe at last…or…

Dubai urbanification–this is the Coastal Zone. In fact, it is the heart of a growing 200km long megalopolis connecting Ras al Kaimah in the north to Abu Dhabi in the south. And it was once…Empty Quarter.

The serviceable part of a lot of those hi-rise apartment neighbourhoods is that ground floor has retail space. I don’t want to turn this into some kind of planners manifesto; but if you must live in an apartment building, it is hugely practical to have retail on the ground floor of hi-rise–especially if your goal is to reduce numbers of local auto trips.



Cross Cultural

Lived lots of years in foreign countries–foreign cultures.

Cross-cultural are experiences in which I have been face-to-face with people and behaviours I did not understand and often did not agree.

…as opposed to multi-cultural which is theory only.

In my work as a landscape architect in those foreign countries and foreign cultures, I had to build major projects. Had to reach workable agreements in difficult cross-cultural conditions. Learned so very much from so many different people.

The links below track some of my cross-cultural journeys.

They are all HD, all less than one minute long, and they are all growing from the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali.


Rub al Khali Enigma: the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula, what it is.



Dreams: how to get from dreams to fiction to reality, Atlantis Dubai 2008.



Empty Quarter: transforming cross-cultural realties, harsh environments into restful shelter, Qasr al Sarab 2010.



A Golf Academy in the Empty Quarter?


Dubai Landscape: the humans

…quarry for Gulf construction…

The Hajar mountains run along the Emirati and Omani border. Directly on the coast of the Gulf of Oman, they actually collect reasonable monsoon rain remnants about 1,000km south at Salalah, just before the Yemeni border. But here in this photo, the rainfall is rare. These mountains are quarry resources for the entire Gulf region.

…having fun yet?…

The Desert Zone bumps against the Mountain Zone. In the Desert Zone, only the presence of water supports humans. Even with water, humans struggle in the Empty Quarter.

…take the airs…

Avicenna marina, al qurm in Arabic. Salt water plants. Mangroves, lots of them in the region; except in Dubai where they are found only in the Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary–in the heart of Dubai Municipality. Mangroves enabled coastal life and architecture (branches for lintels and beams), fodder (leaves), cooking (charcoal). Besides date palms, they had no other woody plants.

…safe at last…or…

Dubai urbanification–this is the Coastal Zone. In fact, it is the heart of a growing 200km long megalopolis connecting Ras al Kaimah in the north to Abu Dhabi in the south. And it was once…Empty Quarter.

Dubai Pent Up Demand

…same for centuries…

Dubai–pent up coast demand. Everybody lives in AC apartments; but humans flood the coast, climate permitting, weather permitting.

…water, shade, green…

Dubai–pent up park demand. Weather permitting, climate permitting–a green park on the coast.

Remember the landscape context–this is the Empty Quarter–coastal edge, coastal zone.

Blue or green is rare and highly sought after, difficult to access. The coast line of the Gulf. City parks. The above two images are what I think the planners call ‘pent up demand’. But you’ve got to drive to get to these nodes. Tell me these green and blue major recreation nodes should not be 10 minutes or less walking from every front door.

…looks nice but something missing…

Where’s the coast? Where’s the park? How do I get there?

Dense apartment life everywhere–that is Dubai.

So I said what might that locally accessible (ten minute walk max) neighbourhood park look like?

…Dubai dream…

Dubai Blue::Dubai Green
Dubai Dream–should be a major node, a landmark–something to organise the neighbourhood around–next to the local mosque.


Need green? It’s the plants! You need the plants.


Dubai Transect Landscape

…empty quarter zones Dubai…

Dubai Municipality sits in the Coastal Zone. Al Ain is an oasis in the Desert Zone. The oasis is supplied by rare monsoon remnants, from the Gulf of Oman, captured by the Hajar Mountains in the Mountain Zone.

I wanted to understand a little more about the larger landscape into which the Dubai Municipality sits. Dubai Municipality is just a narrow, but intensely built, strip along the edge of the Gulf. From the above satellite image–it is hardly visible.

The landscape transect distance from Dubai, at the Gulf coastal edge, above on the left, across to the right to the Gulf of Oman is 100km.

Many times, I drove that transect through the Dubai Emirate on a main road, identifying essentially three distinct landscape eco-zones:

A Dutch doctor, a General Practitioner, Marijcke Jongbloed, lived in the United Arab Emirates for twenty years. She surveyed, 1983-2003, the landscape of the UAE. She compiled her findings in a book entitled, The Comprehensive Guide to the Wild Flowers of the United Arab Emirates. She photographed each plant in its natural habitat, annotated a location map and commented on how the plant was used by humans (ethnobotany). Best reference I found for plants in the UAE.

…sand or sun…but no water…

Aladdin? A lamp? No, it’s the Empty Quarter and it’s full of sand and genies…No!! It’s full of djinnis and gnomes and surfs and a whole lot of people…but the humans only live along the edges, right? No, no, no…it is nothing…nothing but a mirage.


Mirage…dream, dream, dream…when I want you in my arms, when I want you and all your charms…whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream…the Empty Quarter…dream.


(dream, courtesy of The Everly Brothers)

Family Vacations, Dubai Style



In my 2006-2010 search for the Dubai landscape, I found Dubai was two entities. An Emirate, one of the seven that comprise the United Arab Emirates. And a Municipality, in the centre of a burgeoning 230km coastal megalopolis stretching from Ras al Khaymah in the north east all the way south west to Abu Dhabi.

The rulers of Dubai, the Emirate and the Municipality, are the family of Shaik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. Shaikh Mohammed, born in 1949, is the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Emir of Dubai.

He has built Dubai and its hospitality offerings as a place for family vacations.

That’s the official story but even in the ‘winter’, I found the weather too hot to be in the sun very long, before seeking AC. And in the summer, sometimes only after midnight it might be ok for casual walks of more than 15 minutes, before seeking AC.

I was in a conundrum. Maybe it was my cultural upbringing, but I thought that family vacations were outdoor experiences. Yet in the Dubai landscape, I found its climatic extremes always pushed me back indoors. Aha! The aha moment–AC shopping–indoors–spectacular architecture and attractions–yes indoor shopping as a family vacation. Hmm.

Family vacation with outdoor landscape as a condiment. Just use it a little. Hmm…

World Hemisphere

…your world?

Dubai sits in the centre of this world.

I visited Dubai in the early 90s for business. Then in 2006, I moved to Dubai for business–four years living and doing business in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the Liwa Oasis.

My landscape challenge was a simple question: what is the Dubai landscape? Never found the answer. But in 2007 I put together a short series of seven figures that addressed some important landscape issues in the region.

This one addresses the population dynamic of the humans in a hemisphere that is measured by a six hour or less jet flight from Dubai. This is a Dubai-centric world hemisphere.

Atlantis Dubai 2008

Some readers wonder how my experience in landscape architecture moved me into writing landscape stories. This video tells the story of the pace and intensity of a large project I worked on in Dubai from 2006-2008.

The project, Atlantis the Palm Dubai is sandwiched between The Gulf (aka The Persian Gulf) and the Empty Quarter (aka Rub al Khali). The intensity of both of these overwhelming landscape features is a 24/7/365 experience that makes every human seek shelter…seek a dream.

Hydrate or Die

…hydrate or die…

In the Empty Quarter…do I need to be told? Hydrate or die?

Landscape design, construction and maintenance under the sun on the world’s largest continuous sand desert–the Empty Quarter–the Rub al Khali. Is it like…just another day at the office?

Just be glad to be here…

I’ve been writing a landscape story titled, The 23 Club. Above, I have summarized it in a five minute clip.

In this story an American expatriate landscape architect confronts the strange multi-cultural realities of Arabian Peninsula work. Those social peculiarities layer with the powerful presence of the Empty Quarter landscape…the Empty Quarter, an enigmatic sand desert which, alone by its very presence, negates life.

The multi-media clip opens a window on the physical geography and cultural issues that swirl about the story–the construction of an iconic five star destination resort in that oil-rich, sand desert which, until recently, had been populated only by the transient Bedu.

If you are attracted to ethnobotany or plants, gardens and landscapes and have the wonder; but you do not have the time or money to travel to the Arabian Peninsula for these, then, just be glad to be here.