Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Dovecots In Dubai

The other day, I spent some time chatting with an architect from Dubai, who spoke about his home.

I was picturing otherworldly fake islands in the sun, luxurious super-tower residential blocks, and open spaces decorated with beautiful public art all with a sea view. Then he told me some shocking news: they have dovecots there as well.

I have always imagined that the race for rabbit hutches was a British obsession. I remember all those meagre niches where people lived like gulls on a cliff face, to be counted in hundreds of thousands, every bird, every nest looking just the same. Urban dovecots are increasingly discredited, as they do not sell, people hate them, and at the bottom end of the market, are such a bad investment that you might just as well stand on the balcony and shower money down on the people below as expect to make a profit.

And guess what: everybody hates them in Dubai. Nobody bought them, nobody wanted to rent them, and again, the builders had a strange idea of their target market (tiny stupid people as they are the only creatures who don’t need space to live, and were silly enough to pay up?) Then, after a financial trauma so terrible it was like staring death in the face, the developers realised: if people don’t like them – let’s ask them what they actually want. Let’s build flats people actually enjoy living in!

And here’s what residents were found to favour: what are called furniture walls – i.e. walls or partitions where you rest a sofa or put up a picture or two. Separate kitchens, all achieved by wooden partitions, so safety if allowed. The toilet does not open out onto the dining area, but out into a hallway. There should be storage (any of this sound familiar?)

This is just so obvious they might as have said: where does the sun rise? People buy large homes if they can afford it, but the kind of people renting in Dubai, according to my source, are single (or couples with no children) who still like a separate kitchen.

My informant also told me about some earlier mistakes: like the development with a row of three blocks allowing for space, and views and a sense of freedom (until the greedy developers filled in the gaps with yet more apartment blocks, and removed any sense of openness and liberation.)

Developers everywhere should read their red bank statements, count their empty properties, and pacify those angry buy-to-let landlords, furious at being promised a gold-standard money maker (but lumbered instead with a catastrophic ruin waiting to happen.) They should look and listen to all these things and then they ask people, i.e. mostly tenants how they actually want to live, not just put their fingers in their ears and whistle so as to drown out disgruntled investors and miserable tenants. They need to build some nice flats. Honestly, is it really that hard?

In Dubai, they were planning to do exactly that, but they left it too late, and look what’s happening there.