As the world’s new tallest building debuts in Dubai, Robert A.M. Stern, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, discusses the impact of modernity on the Middle East.
Question: How has globalization changed architecture?
Stern: Globalization is another major issue that young architects and all architects face, but that we – speaking as a teacher and as a dean – we address. I mean the whole issue of how much modernization or modernity is appropriate in countries like the Middle East? I mean it’s a political issue which buildings are principle talismans of. Is it appropriate to build a 25 story or a 50 story office building basically sealed in glass and so forth in a desert setting? Some would say in those countries these are symbols of their rising modernity. But the people . . . Often the people in the streets see these as alien invaders. So I mean I could go on in that. But the global issue of . . . The global versus the local is a . . . is a very complicated issue which can raise architectural discourse to the boiling point, and can in fact raise the relationship of nations to each other to the boiling point.
Question: How should architects respond?
Stern: There are different ways. A way would always be wrong, and it’s always the context. If you’re hired to do a building along what can only be described as the strip in Dubai, which is like the strip in Las Vegas – __________ Highway I think is the proper name, or Road – I think the die is already cast. I mean local . . . there is no local. And in fact there was no local culture. But some of the buildings that are being built in that strip, on that strip, are addressing environmental issues to some extent to ameliorate the use of energy – like extreme heat most of the year and so forth. Others are just business as usual. So I think that . . . But if you’re invited to build perhaps in the new neighborhood settings of, say, Abu Dhabi, which is planning to expand to _______ Island, I would think in the neighborhood settings where apartment houses are gonna be built and so forth, and the fabric of the city will be much more familiar to the human scale – shall I put it that way – I think there’s lots of opportunities to recall, and reinvent, and re . . . and understand how people have historically built in the desert.