Rich Dubai

By April 16, 2014 Uncategorized

Looking at Dubai is like watching an act by a great magician. One moment there is nothing and then, poof; the tallest building in the world, seven star hotel and a police force driving Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s has risen from the desert sands. It’s amazing, incredible and ultimately an illusion. The house of cards that the city was built on came perilously close to crashing down during the financial crash. The limitless pockets of the Emirate of Dubai suddenly teetered and Abu Dhabi had to pull out its platinum credit card (but not before the tallest building in the world was renamed the Burj khalifa).

For all the faults you could find about Dubai, there is still something magical about the city. Dubai is a place where you can see – for good and bad – just what’s possible when money is no object. Here’s a list of five of the best things about Dubai.

The Palm

Underwater room? Sure, no problem. Why not spend a night in one of the two underwater suites at The Palm hotel. That will be $6,500 a night, so I hope you’ve brought your Gold Card. Still, given the chance, I probably would.

Ski dubai

At 22,500 square meters, Ski Dubai is less of a one slope run and more of a ski resort. There’s a 60 meter high mountain with five ski runs, including the worlds first indoor black slope, as well as a snow park with toboggan and sledding runs. The whole concept does leave you with more questions than answers, but that’s just part of what makes it magic.

Ice Bar

After a day spent out on the slopes carving up the fresh snow it’s probably time to head off into the ice bar for a drop of drink. Be sure to bring a coat, because the temperature will be a steady Arabian desert style -6 degrees.

Dubai Mall

Covering 5.6 million square feet and at a cost of $700 million, Dubai Mall is the largest and most expensive retail development in the world. In the space of an hour, you’ll see celebrities and pass endless shops selling luxury item. The mall also has an olympic sized ice skating rink and one of the largest aquariums in the world.

The World

There is one sure fire way to impose your will on the world; build it in miniature. At a cost of $14 billion, Dubai did just that. Through land reclamation, the city built over 300 private islands that seen from above appear look like a map of the world. It certainly appeals to peoples egos. Richard Branson decided to buy Great Britain. Enough said!

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By April 15, 2014 Uncategorized

Istanbul connects the continents of Europe and Asia. It was founded as a way of figuratively and literally unifying the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire. Since its founding the city has remained a centre of politics, trade and economics; firstly as the capital of the Roman Empire, then the Byzantine Empire, followed by the Ottoman Empire and more recently Turkey. Each period has left its architectural mark on the city. Here are some of the highlights.

Topkapi Palace

You need a great palace to control one of the largest empires the world has ever seen, so the Ottomans built Topkapi Palace. The Palace was the official residence for the Ottoman Sultans from 1465. The complex is enormous and consists of palaces, courtyards, mosques and halls. It is an enchanting place to visit, but you’ll need a whole afternoon to really explore it.

Hagia Sophia

When Hagia Sophia was first built it was the largest Church in the whole of Christendom. Following the defeat of the Byzantine Empire, the Church was converted into a mosque, before it was finally turned into a museum. The interior is intricately and exquisitely decorated with an enormous vaulting roof.

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is Turkey’s national mosque and the design shares many of the same characteristics as Hagia Sophia. The mosque was built in the 17th century and the building dominates the cities skyline. The name of the mosque comes from the blue tiles which decorate the inside of the building.

Column of Constantine

The construction of a new capital for the Roman Empire was always going to be a momentous event. So when Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople he built an enormous column to commemorate the event. The original column was 50 meters tall, and despite his conversion to christianity, was topped with a statue of the Emperor dressed as Apollo.

Basilica Cistern

Under the streets of the old city of Istanbul, hundreds of cisterns were built to collect and store rainwater. Though the reason for the construction of these cisterns was purely practical – and few people would ever see them – the cisterns are architectural masterpieces in there own right. The highlight is the Basilica Cistern.

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Classical Architecture

By April 15, 2014 Uncategorized

The Classical World was a period of design, experimentation and innovation. Great minds created beautiful palaces and ornate temples that still inspire awe after more than two millennia. The heartlands of classical Western architectural styles were the city states and minor kingdoms of the Greeks and the mighty Roman Empire.

Classical Greek architecture is often associated with columned temples, symmetrical, proportioned and balanced. The Romans copied many aspects of Greek design, but improved and developed on it. The invention of concrete and the widespread use of brick enabled Roman architects to build domed roofs with vaulted ceilings. Here is a guide to some of the architectural highlights of the classical world that will interest anyone planning a trip to Athens or Rome.



The Parthenon was a temple to the Greek Goddess Athena and was finished in 432 BC. It is one of the most famous structures from the Hellenistic Period. The temple incorporates design elements from then Doric and Ionic order and it is still possible to see the carved friezes and statues that depict battles and scenes from daily life.

Temple of Athena Nike

The Temple of Athena Nike was built from marble and is the first temple that you will come across as you climb the hill towards the Acropolis, dominating the southern access to the citadel. The Temple was built as a place of worship for Nike and Athena, the god and goddess of war. The Temples frieze has been removed, but can be viewed at the Acropolis Museum.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

The Temple of Olympian Zeus took centuries to complete, but was eventually consecrated in 132 AD. The temple was the largest ever constructed in the Ancient World and was completed by the Emperor Hadrian. Shortly after its completion the city was pillaged and the temple was never restored.



The Pantheon was built almost entirely of Roman concrete and the giant 142-foot dome is a stunning example of how this material revolutionised building design. The building was originally constructed as a place of worship for pagan gods, but was turned into a church during the Middle Ages.


The Colosseum is an immense structure that to this day still dominates the skyline of Rome. When it was first built, the Colosseum could hold up to 55,000 people (which makes it larger than many modern day football stadiums). The Colosseum’s design combines practical efficiency with grandeur.


To feed a city of one million people you need a lot of drinking water and so Rome built 11 giant aqueducts to bring bathing and drinking water to the city. There construction was an immense feat of engineering, given the distances that some of this water needed to be transported.

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Rail Stations

By April 14, 2014 Uncategorized

They were the cathedrals of the industrial revolution, a sign of progress, development and a testament to the hopes and ambitions of nations and empires. Grand buildings with soaring ceilings that mixed steel, glass and stone were as much as reflection of the time as our modern glass fronted skyscrapers. St. Pancras, Grand Central, Helsinki Central Station, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Estacao De Sao Bento and Haydarpasa are some of the most famous examples of train stations from the Victorian era. Let me reveal some of their architectural wonder.

St. Pancras

St. Pancras was originally composed of two structures; the Train Shed, which was designed by William Henry Barlow, and the Midland Grand Hotel that was designed by George Gilbert Scott. The result was a station that combined gothic architecture with modern design. The Train Shed arched cross span steel roof was more than 70 meters wide and at the time was the largest single structure in Britain. It contrasted with the Gothic inspired design of the Midland Grand Hotel creating a meeting of the old and the new. This merging of tradition and development fit well with the British perception of the country as an old established Empire steeped in history that was the global superpower of the time. Following an £800 million makeover, St. Pancras has risen again as a cathedral of the railways.

Grand Central

Grand Central Terminal was originally conceived and first opened in 1871. Since opening, the building has gone through a number of revisions and re-designs. In 1899 the main building was almost entirely demolished, expanded and rebuilt over the course of the next 14 years. By 1913, Grand Central Terminal looked much the same as it does today, with its classic Beaux-Arts design. In 1994, Grand Central Terminus was overhauled in a $197 million restoration project. A mall and food court were added to the Terminal. Grand Central Terminal in New York should not be confused with the old Grand Central Station in Chicago or Grand Central Station New York (which actually no longer exists).

Helsinki Central Station

Helsinki Central Station is an imposing structure of granite built in the Romantic Art Nouveau style. Four grand statues on either side of the entrance hall holding lamps dominate the exterior of the building, while the interior feels large and airy with a high vaulted ceiling. The building that you see today is not the original structure, but a newer and expanded design by Eliel Saarinen that was opened in 1919.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was built in 1887 and is more than just a station, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Designed by Frederick William Stevens, the building is a blend of mughal and Italian Gothic Revival style architecture. The turrets, arches amd eccentric ground plans are supposed to be reminiscent of an Indian palace, while the columns topped with the British Lion and statues representing Agriculture, Commerce, Industry and Science and Progress are decidedly British.

Estacao de Sao Bento

Estacao de Sao Bento is located in the Portuguese city of Porto and was completed in 1916. The exterior of the building, with its mansard roof and stone facade, would not look out of place in Paris. The interior is large, light and airy, with a high ceiling and a white and black tiled floor. It is the blue and white murals on the wall, which depict the history of Portugal and took 11 years to complete, that are the real highlight of the station.


Haydarpasa opened in 1909 and was part of an initiative by the Ottoman Empire to pull itself into the modern era through the modernisation of its infrastructure. The grand building which is in a Neo-Classical style was designed by Otto Ritter and Helmut Conu, two German architects. Built on reclaimed land, the building juts out into the Bosphorus. While the exterior of the building is grand, the interior is intricately decorated with cartouches, garlands and stain glass windows. It is a masterful mix of Western and Eastern architectural styles.


The era of the grand central train stations might have ended 100 years ago, but somebody forgot to tell the Germans. The Hauptbahnhof in Berlin is a towering testament to modernity. The design is modern blend of glass and steel, mixing the traditional cross span steel roof with the straight lines and regular angles of a modern skyscraper. A reminder that there is still a place for grand architecture in our public buildings.

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Colonial Colombia

By April 14, 2014 Uncategorized

Like the natural landscape, architecture is a powerful medium that shapes the world around us. The Grand Canyon, which tumbles into the Earths crust and stretches for miles in every direction, the Great Pyramid of Giza, a Bronze Age attempt to reach for the stars, and even the Empire State Building are all sites that awe and inspire.

For a fleeting moment, the vast expanse of the Plaza de Villa de Leyva, in Colombia had the same affect on me. Restricted by the forces of nature and financial resources to build up, the colonial authorities in this corner of the country used the only resource they had available; space. The Plaza is one of the largest town squares in the whole of South America. The design is simple and functional with none of the ostentatious displays of wealth that are found in the larger cities around the continent, yet its size brings to mind the flat salt plains of the Atacama Desert. It is a statement of purpose and permanence; we are here to stay!

The passing of time has proven how transitory this message was. The fall of the Spanish Empire in this corner of the continent created Colombia, whose fortunes have peaked and troughed like the worlds financial markets. Through it all though – and as a result of careful and rigidly enforced legislation – Villa de Leyva has retained its colonial character.

Look past the grand square and you encounter a small city of unevenly cobbled streets, with simple stone buildings with white plastered walls and terracotta roofs. Heavy plant pots sit on wooden balconies and purple bougainvilleas top the outer walls of the grand gardens. Tourists and locals pass on the busy streets, while adrenaline junkies head out into the surrounding countryside for nighttime mountain biking and horse rides along the rugged mountain paths.

The best time to visit Villa de Leyva is in the early spring or during the warm summer months. It is then that the square comes to life with the sounds of guitars, singing and lively conversations on patio bars. The main market of Villa de Leyva also starts to fill at this time of year. Fresh fruit and produce is trucked in on antiquated vehicles piled high with wooden boxes filled with avocado, granadillas and lulos. The small restaurants do a bustling trade, serving their wares from wood fired-pots containing aromatic and flavourful soups.

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