WTCs, 11 September 2019


For longer than I can calculate right now, I’ve been writing a history about Dubai. There’ve been countless encounters with momentous dates, in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, when things seemed to shift in Dubai’s favor, and away from it. And there’ve been moments, like today, when I realize I’m writing on *that* day, so many years later. Eighteen years ago today, the World Trade Center towers In New York were destroyed. I often think about that day, and what it meant.

Today, twenty days to go until my final deadline to deliver the manuscript, I’m at the second-to-last chapter, on Dubai’s World Trade Center. It means I’m poring over articles and brochures about the one it aspired to be. Its architect tried to mimic the New York version in so many ways—the same number of hotel rooms, the same raised dais, the same facades of thread-like steel columns, even its twin-ness he wanted to replicate.

Looking at a project that tries to match something that already existed—it provides a certain lens through which to look at the original.

Returning from a visit to New York’s World Trade Center in the mid-1970s, the British architect for Dubai’s version brought back with him a couple snapshots

of those fierce towers and a thick blue notebook of marketing material. Inside that blue binder is ultimately what the Dubai project aspired to most. Business-class luxury. Air-conditioned environments. Service included. More private management than municipal. A seamlessness between pleasure and work.

A tower’s form delivers a message for sure, but perhaps more lasting and more generative, were the interiors the Word Trade Center promised. The New York marketing team promoted office spaces as if they were luxury apartments, with marble-top meeting tables, kitchenettes, plants, duplex options, sinuous seating areas, and closets deep enough for oversize overcoats. And of course loads of nearby shopping. The World Trade Center projected power on the outside, but inside its operators wanted to coddle you for a pretty penny.

The towers’ destruction was meant to be a spectacle; and a spectacle feeds off symbolism. The Word Trade Center’s symbols were as much inside as they were outside.