Dubai dreams again with new opera and art complex

Reuters, Saturday 31 Mar 2012

World's tallest building? Check. Man-made islands in the sea? Check. Indoor ski slope? Check. Now it's time for opera and art

Dubai, which burst onto the global stage with a series of extravagant projects before being subdued by a crippling debt crisis, has now revived plans for an opera house in a bid to boost tourism.

The once high-flying Gulf Arab emirate unveiled plans for a modern art museum and opera house district in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

The entertainment complex will include an opera house, modern art museum, art galleries, two new hotels and residential housing.

But unlike its heyday, when everything was aimed at making Dubai's name shine brighter, the government was careful to couch the new development as "the UAE's news arts and cultural nerve centre," a sign of the closer federal ties forged in the aftermath of Dubai's 2009 debt fiasco.

"The cultural accomplishments of a nation define its character and individuality," Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum said in a statement.

"We will continue to strengthen the infrastructure framework for promoting cultural initiatives, through projects such as the Dubai Modern Art Museum & Opera House District."

Original plans for a dune-shaped opera house and cultural centre, designed by British architect Zaha Hadid and built on a island in Dubai Creek, were shelved as its struggling developer, Sama Dubai, slashed projects in 2009.

The new project is a square, glass-enclosed structure on the edge of an existing man-made lake in Emaar Properties' Downtown shopping and residential district.

The government did not say how the project would be funded or who would design it.

"The design and architectural elements... are now being finalised and work will commence shortly," the statement said.

The Gulf Arab region is already home to Muscat's Royal Opera House, an Arabesque white complex that houses the Royal Oman Symphony, and the Qatar Opera House.

Neighbouring Abu Dhabi, which rode to Dubai's rescue at the height of its debt crisis, has slowed its own plans to build branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums in the UAE capital, pushing back their completion dates by a few years.

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