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Dubai & the Burj Khalifa: A Chat with Eric Demay

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A year ago MoCo contributor Eric Demay was in Dubai to wrap up a project for what is now known as the Burj Khalifa. We decided to catch up with him again to get a sense of his experience and perspectives once the intensity of the experience had a chance to lessen. His photos tell a fascinating story, but we needed a few details in order to try to get closer to the Burj Khalifa and its context.

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Daytime view from the Burj Khalifa

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Nighttime view from the Burj Khalifa

A Montreal-based exhibition designer, Eric was involved in creating the gsmprjctº multimedia project that encompassed the exhibition that leads the visitors from the mall level to the elevator to the Observatory, the only point in the tower accessible by the public, the multimedia design inside the elevators (where the view is the real show) and the installation at the observation deck on the 124th floor. Eric told us, “The building itself is huge. But when you are walking in it, within the belly of the beast, you forget how big the beast is. But at night, when the sky is clear, it is quite something when you see how tall it is. There’s nothing comparable.”

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Burj Khalifa at night

During his month-long stay, Eric was able to get a glimpse of both old and new Dubai and form some impressions of this almost “other planet-like” city in the Middle East. As he says, “You don’t feel like you’re in the Middle East. It feels like being on another planet or not far from here. It is only in Old Dubai that it feels authentic.” Eric describes New Dubai as “shockingly new, visually striking and trying to be as flashy as possible.” But because very few people in Dubai are actually from there, this vision is being carried out by architects and developers of all backgrounds. The knowledge and styles are from elsewhere, a reflection of an import/export culture built upon the sand.

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Sheikh Zayed Road

Eric was not enamoured of how huge and spread out the city is. In fact, what he hated were the endless taxi rides and the “sheer bigness” of everything. He said, “To cross the street, you have to take a taxi.” Of course, in the case of the many-laned Sheikh Zayed Road, this is the only way to get to the other side. He accepts that the design priorities are completely different, complete with objectives that are seemingly irrational to us and admits that the approach somehow works. “They have a bold vision of what Dubai can be and they are building it.” Admirable.

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Pork chops at the Pork Shop

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… but not for everyone

Eric’s favourite aspect of Dubai was its many contrasts: the differences between the old and new Dubai; the young German women in bikinis on the beach beside families in burkas; the rich cultural mix of people. “If you were in a mall, you could take a snapshot of the world. Every tone of skin is represented, every religion.” And an important highlight was the food. “The Lebanese and Indian foods were real pluses. These are the main food cultures, so both were very authentic.”

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Waterfront living

Eric might not recommend Dubai as a vacation spot, but does point out that it is well worth seeing if on business. “I would be interested in going back in 15 years,” he says, “to see how Dubai evolves. I am happy to have seen it at a time of critical change.”

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House dressed up for a wedding

Eric Demay’s next project with gsmprjct is an exhibition entitled “Indiana Jones and the Adventures of archaeology” in partnership with Lucasfilms and National Geographic. It opens this April in Montreal.

+ ericdemay.com

+ ericdemay.com

+ gsmprjct.com

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