Monday, September 19, 2005

UAE only live twice...

Ken Adam (that's SIR Ken Adam) created the War Room for Dr Strangelove. But he's best known for designing Bond sets. Particularly the evil lairs of supervillains, with or without a cast of hundreds in red jumpsuits. Or vats of dangerous hot/acidic/cold stuff into which henchmen fall. He created the missile-launch cavern inside the volcano in You Only Live Twice. And the underwater lair of Dr No, complete with its fish-magnifying windows and stolen Goya. "Just because Dr No was evil, didn't mean he didn't have taste" Sir Ken maintained.

So I was thinking about Bond sets last week. I was thinking that just as William Gibson invented cyberspace with no knowledge whatsoever of computers, Sir Ken provided a visual instantiation of Dubai. Where even now, they are building an underwater hotel. Look at this!

I love the way that Emirates projects like this seem totally pie in the sky. Until they're built. Quietly, the future appears, and just sits there. While we in the UK fret over faux-georgian shopping centres, someone builds an underwater hotel. Or a kilometre-long hotel with a ballroom the size of Wembley stadium. With unlimited financial resources, a tradition of spectacular display, an unconcern about matching vernacular architecture and a desire to create a city of the future, Dubai's baroque modernism grows and grows. It all seems unstoppable; reminiscent of the nanotech assemblers of The Diamond Age or Mona Lisa Overdrive.

The World; The Palm; city projects the size of Beirut announced every other day, And in Abu Dhabi, too. Which is a splendid city. What of this: the Emirates Palace Hotel. One of the few truly breathtaking buildings I've seen. It's almost impossible to describe. An uncharitable soul might say: Disneyworld holds an Arabian Theme Night for the Paris Ritz in several aircraft hangers. But I'm not feeling uncharitable. This hotel is so big, guests must be assigned guides for the duration of their stay. I went to a banquet there last week. More on the trip later. Vast acreages of cool marble and sumptious carpet, dazzled by bus-sized glittering crystal chandeliers. There are full-sized artificial palm trees in the ballroom antechamber; they're dwarfed by the escalators. It is exceedingly strange: Brobdingnagian but perfectly proportioned and scaled. Brilliant.

I learned at the Emirates Palace Hotel:
1. No matter how luxurious the surroundings, no matter how good the houmous, the accompanying raw sticks of bell-peppers go floppy and horrible. Even in a seven star hotel.
2. Fruit juices served on a silver tray, on linen scattered with dawn-coloured pink and orange rose petals, taste better than fruit juices that aren't.
3. It is possible to serve an intimate dinner for 400.
4. There is such a thing as a seven star hotel. After a short discussion on our way back to the more human-scaled Hilton, we decided that at least one of those extra two stars must be for being *big*.

1 comment:

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