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2A International Conference

NOVEMBER 17, 2008

Anchor 1

2A International Conference

Dubai, United Arab Emirates,

'Boutique City: Designing for Sale'

November 17, 2008

Michael Rotondi Convocational

Speech, Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, University of Houston

May 10, 2003, 1pm

Good evening everyone.
I am pleased to be in Dubai and speaking at this conference.

Thank you to the sponsors and to 2A magazine and its editor Ahmad Zohadi for the invitation. When I arrived Sunday evening, it did not take long to see and hear about how the realities of the global financial markets had begun to affect this part of the world. This re-confirms the indisputable fact that we are indeed one planet, one world, and one people. If our markets are global then all of the human institutional structures that support them are globally one interdependent system, expanding and contracting at variable speeds and rhythms, but as one entity. It is no longer tenable to think we are immune from anything that happens in a distant places where different languages are spoken. I must say we also share in the good things that are happening as well.


Considering these current events, the growing number of critiques focusing on the UAE and Dubai in particular, and a wonderful wide ranging conversation that I had last evening with my friend Mark Bethel, director of development for Nakheel, I decided to adjust what I was going to talk about. I will express my thoughts in 3 parts;
//A. ideas about cities and people, and places
  B. urban projects RoTo (my design studio) worked on with Mark Bethel, and then
  C. concluding positive thoughts in elliptical prose

I am asked two questions whenever I meet someone for the first time.

Is this your first time to Dubai?,
No, I answer, this is my second. The first was one year ago.
What do you think about Dubai?
It reconfirms that anything imaginable is possible, in the right circumstance, I answer.

Re: Current Impressions
I see Dubai through the lens of Los Angeles, which is my native city. The Italian author-storyteller, Calvino, in a book Invisible Cities, placed the explorer Marco Polo and the Mongol lord Kubla Khan in a palace room talking about many of the cities in Khans empire. Polo described them vividly and imaginatively in detail, as Khan listened, until he stopped Polo and asked if he was describing each city or was he describing Venice, Italy in different ways. Polo said, I see each city through the lens of my native city, Venice, but it is transformed by the uniqueness of each new city.

I see Dubai through the lens of Los Angeles, which serves as a reference, but Dubai helps me see my own city in new ways. Los Angeles is still trying to make a livable city after 100 years and we are asking, once again: Is a city for investment and wealth creation, for people, or both?

Is it possible to strike a balance between financial and social modeling?
There are still many buildings searching for a city, for connectivity, for the unimpeded flow of space and activities equal to other invisible flows of currencies and ideas.

Looking out from my hotel room window, on the 38th floor facing easterly, out towards the sea, I am in awe. The amount of work completed since I was last here 1.5 years ago, it seems like 10 years ago. Out my window I see many projects in different states of start and completion, with thousands of workers moving about, as cranes and cars move around one place to another. It takes me back to my childhood and my ant farm.

The work moves at the speed of money, which is a bit faster than thought. People keep pace, almost.

Is it possible to move fast and think deeply?

All of the work in various phases of completion looks incoherent on the surface but I know that creative work is whole and coherent in the minds eye to the people with vision. Patience is required to stay focused and calm, and to see what is not present yet.

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