Transit City: common ground or virtual space – DXB Dubai International Airport

Transit City - Dubai 04

Boarding at Dubai International Airport


Its 8:00 am, I’m sitting at Paul, a franchise proud of being a Maison de Qualité Foundée en 1889, while sweeping a hot cappuccino, I try to understand the conversation of the mature Asian couple that sits in front of me, while an Italian man asks me if he can pull one of the chairs in my table.

Proud Emirates wearing their traditional clothes (by now I can distinguish perfectly Emirates, Omanis, Bahrainis and Qataris) cross a small group of apparently men with modest clothes, fully bagged, and fast walk going on the opposite direction, and are over passed by 2 boys in t-shirt and shorts, over tanned and dreadlocks clearly ending their vacation adventure in the foreign Middle East.

The scene repeats with endless variations of the same basic principle: the entire world communities meet here, probably the only place where they meet is here.

This is a non-place, a place with no space, time or climate; no geographic location, no political, social or religious affiliations, no history, no culture, nothing. Anything and everything happens here: anything because its transitory, everything because even if transitory it’s continuously in movement.

Transit City - Dubai 01

Variety of people at section B

At 4:00 am people were sleeping, people were eating and drinking, people were chatting, people were reading. Common denominator: waiting for a flight. The exact same thing can be observed at 8:00am, 1:00pm, 4:00pm and so on, nothing changes because, the only time that exists here is the time for your next flight. There is no night and day because its always day inside the airport, there is no rain or sun, because the place is always dry under 21 degrees that complex AC system make sure to accomplish.

Transit City - Dubai 03

Waiting area at section C


I know that it is approximately 14 degrees outside, because the pilot said it over the speaker before my plane landed but nothing inside this place denounces that: as quick you foresight a group with snow jackets and wool beanies, as a family in shorts and sandals. Here it is 21 degrees all year round or, as Dubai likes to ensure publicly, 23 degrees because is a more sustainable temperature (I’m almost sure it is 21, but ok).

It is a challenge to find Emiratis as well as any reflection of their culture (food, music, artifacts, not even the calling for praying time that you can here in any Muslim city, you will ear here – nothing points out for the fact that we are at UAE, except for the sign that says welcome to Dubai at the exit of each flight.

Even in the center of Dubai you find the same problem, I often wonder where are they, the locals. I honestly find them more easily in Bahrain on Thursday’s night, in the mall, than in Dubai. What is this place that was emptied of locals?

This scene goes by over a green background. A luxurious garden grows inside, in the middle of the departure terminal. I smell grass, moisture and ear birds singing, can’t see them dough, but I ear them. A passage allows people to cross the garden and sit in the middle, a group of Asians take pictures to everything that moves (and doesn’t move too), and I think to myself, what a paradox? An oasis, in the airport terminal, in the middle of the desert. I wonder if the plants are real, and check it out in an inspector gadget mood – they are real. I guess it’s proven that in contemporary society sustainable means green (any green either color green, green grass, green trees, green cupcakes…anything).

Far ahead the waiting area of the terminal’s section C is “decorated” with huge palm trees, that grow under a white convex ceiling, this ones don’t seem real dough…

Transit City - Dubai 02

Interior garden at section B


What surprises me here, like generally in all Dubai, is the lack of common ground. When I’m in Frankfurt, I know that I’m in Germany, besides being in a super crowded international airport hub, I know that I’m in Germany, because people speak German first, they have stands of curry wurst, and different beer brands, shops of German brands or according to the German taste; that makes it slightly different from Charles de Gaulle, from Heathrow, and so on. These airports are all located in Europe, meaning shared a common ground, but each one has a particular “smell”, even if it’s scent it’s decreasing at fast pace.

In Dubai I often feel like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Süskind, Patrick: Das Parfum): a creature with no senses, which comes from the lack of identity as from the excess of effort in faking one. While Grenouille doesn’t  have scent and people strange him for that, making him obsessed with the idea of creating the perfect scent, in the hope of making him irresistible to humans; the opposite , meaning, the excessive exposure to different smells, commonly generates the same result: the inability the distinguish any scent at all.

CONCLUSION (sense of place)

Where are the Emiratis anyway? Don’t they travel, shop, go out for lunch, dinner or coffee/tea? They are like a rare creature that you have to wait patiently in the natural habitat for them to show up. What city do they use, and if it’s not Dubai as we know it, what does that make of is city? After all, a city, is supposed to represent the culture, social, political and economic organization of the society that builds it so, who build this city and for what? What does it says of the society that inhabits it?

I guess Dubai, or a morning at the airport, sums up quite quickly the major problems cities are facing today: lack of identity – commuting spaces that lost their sense of “place”, rather acting as part of a virtual network of exchange: money, knowledge, goods,…; that has no real physical representation. A space for where all the world meets, without any real human interaction.

I must say, I’ve seen the future and its scary!

But I guess all changes are…