It is hard to believe now, but Dubai used to be a small fishing village just 50 years ago. Today, it is one of the most rapidly developing cities in the world whose image has changed dramatically in the 21st century: home to the tallest skyscrapers, dozens of luxury hotels and several artificial archipelagos since 1999. Major property developers played a key role in the transformation of the city. Read this article to find out who built what in Dubai over the past 25 years, and what they are building in the city today.
Emaar Properties is one of the major players on the property market not only in Dubai and the UAE, but in the Arab world as a whole. Created in 1997, the company reportedly owns more than 14,000 buildings in Dubai.
Burj Khalifa is definitely the most famous one. Since 2010, the stalagmite-like tower bears the title of the tallest building in the world with the most floors. The 163-floor building is 828 metres high. Apart from Burj Khalifa, there are only three buildings in the world above 600 metres and none above 700 metres. Burj Khalifa is a multipurpose skyscraper housing the Armani Hotel, residential flats and offices.
Burj Khalifa dominates Downtown Dubai which has been developed by Emaar for more than 20 years. In 2008 Dubai Mall opened here, one of the largest shopping centres in the world with more than 1,000 stores. Around the same time, a vast dancing fountain started working. Downtown’s main cultural institution is the Dubai Opera where Plácido Domingo performed at the opening ceremony in 2016, and the guest star of the first season was none other than the acclaimed Spanish tenor José Carreras.
New buildings in the UAE
Again, in Downtown we can see two tall hotels by Emaar: Address Downtown and Address Boulevard. The first one has 63 floors, the second one has 73 floors. At a height of 368 metres, Address Boulevard claims the title of tallest hotel in the world. As well as hotel rooms, it has over 500 serviced flats available for rent.
There are plenty of residential high-rises in Downtown, including some under construction right now. They include residential towers Act One, Act Two, Forte and Grande. The elite 77-floor skyscraper Il Primo deserves a special mention: all the flats will have a minimum of four bedrooms. The skyscraper will also house a pool, gym, library, cinema and golf simulator.
Downtown is not the only area where Emaar works. The property developer’s portfolio includes the Dubai Marina man-made bay. Other developers are building the tallest skyscrapers in this new area, but Emaar still has much to offer, such as the blocks of flats Vida Residences and Marina Shores.
Another ambitious Emaar project is the development of Emaar Beachfront Island with a long beach and a boardwalk. The new district will eventually have 27 residential high-rises, including Sunrise Bay, Grand Bleu Tower and Marina Vista.
Emaar much more to offer on top of flats in high-rises, developing several areas with villas and townhouses, including three areas built around golf courses: Emaar South, just five minutes from Al Maktoum international airport, Dubai Hills Estate with a massive park and 54-kilometre bikeway and Arabian Ranches where you can play golf, basketball, tennis and even polo.
Nakheel Properties is the second major player on the Dubai real estate market, competing with Emaar since 2003 and creating equally amazing projects, the most impressive being the two artificial islands Palm Jumeirah and The World.
Palm Jumeirah is the only one of the three Palm Islands that Nakheel managed to complete before the financial crisis of 2007-2008. The two other islands are still in limbo. However, Palm Jumeirah, one of the most expensive areas in Dubai, was completed, replete with posh hotels and private villas.
On the trunk of a palm Nakheel has built the 52-floor Palm Tower: the five-star hotel St Regis Dubai with 290 rooms occupies the first 18 floors. There are 432 flats above the hotel, a pool on the 50th floor, a restaurant on the 51st floor and an observatory deck on the 52nd. The shopping centre Nakheel Mall is connected directly to the 232 metre-high Palm Tower.
The remaining buildings on Palm Jumeirah are much shorter. To name a few: the 11-floor residential complex Golden Mile and 10-floor block of flats Azure Residences with a gym on the roof and big outdoor infinity pool.
Nakheel is developing at least two dozen districts in Dubai. One of its projects is the Jumeirah archipelago, 50 small islands which are interconnected, surrounded by the waters of an artificial lake. Forty-six of the islands accommodate villas executed in different styles, with 16 houses per island, each with its own pool.
Some of the more reasonably priced projects by Nakheel are Jumeirah Village Circle, with approximately 700 villas forming circles around a park, the neighbouring district Jumeirah Village Triangle with villas, townhouses and blocks of flats, and International City where each block is inspired by the architecture of different countries.
In 2022 Nakheel relaunched the stalled project of one of the Palm Islands. Now Palm Deira has been renamed Dubai Islands. The company does not plan to finish “the palm”, creating instead 20 kilometres of beaches and building more than 80 hotels. Admittedly, at present there is no information about the timing of this massive construction project.
Other ongoing projects by Nakheel are Palm Beach Towers featuring three skyscrapers at the entrance of Palm Jumeirah Island and two districts with four bedroom and five bedroom villas, Tilal Al Furjan and Jebel Ali Village. The archipelagos Palm Jebel Ali and The World still await their moment of glory.
Meraas was founded in Dubai in 2007. Its most impressive project is perhaps the development of the artificial Bluewaters Island with the 250-metre-high Ain Dubai, the world’s tallest observation wheel. The island welcomes guests to the Caesars Palace Dubai resort hotel with a 500-metre beach. At present the company is planning to build a residential complex at the entrance to Bluewaters, the two-tower Bluewaters Bay: here you will be able to find small one bedroom units and big four bedroom flats, as well as an infinity pool, a gym and a tennis court.
Meraas is proud of another coastal area - Port De La Mer. The company has already built several middle-rise complexes in Mediterranean style here and does not intend to stop there. The names of the projects are clearly inspired by the French Riviera: La Voile, La Rive, La Cote, Sur la Mer and the latest one, La Sirène. On the nearby island of Pearl Jumeirah Meraas owns a five-star hotel called Nikki Beach Resort & Spa with a beach club and Nikki Beach Residences.
Another island, Jumeirah Bay, and yet again an exclusive residential area by Meraas. Low-rise Bulgari Resorts & Residences and Bulgari Marina Lofts by Italian designer Antonio Citterio stand next to the Bulgari Hotel and a yacht club with a 50-berth marina.
Recently Meraas started work on a 28-floor building also designed by the bureau of Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel. The airy white tower Bulgari Lighthouse will be home to 31 penthouses with four bedrooms on the lower floors and five bedrooms on the upper floors. Each flat has a vast balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows. The larger flats also have a small private pool.