FEW LANDSCAPES have been so utterly transformed in so little time as the slice of coastal Arabian Desert that is Dubai. The southern border of the emirate abuts a region that, until a few decades ago, was referred to on maps as “The Empty Quarter.” The terrain of the city itself consists of sandy coastal plains, high dunes, and, a little farther inland, the arid Hajar Mountains.

And yet, within the last 20 years, Dubai has been meticulously engineered to become one of the world’s great metropolises, with the tallest skyline on the planet. Below are some looks at 21st-century Dubai.


Dubai from the water

People have been arriving in Dubia via the Persian Gulf for at least 1,000 years, and probably much longer, as the area was home to multiple centers of trade. It's only within the last few years, though, that they've been met with a sight like this.
Photo: LA(Phot) Jay Allen


The geography of modern-day Dubai

This shot gives a good overview of the modern city, looking northeast up the coast. In the foreground is the Dubai Marina district, which in many respects functions as its own city / community. Jumeirah Beach stretches on to the ultra-lux Burj Al Arab Hotel. And in the hazy distance is Dubai proper, dominated by the newly completed Burj Khalifa. Just on the other side of downtown is the international airport, where airlines like the local Emirates operate dozens of flights to Dubai daily.
Photo: Ehsan Khakbaz H.


Dubai in the fog

Climatic conditions sometimes conspire to blanket the city in fog, which snarls traffic and creates opportunities for some memorable photos.
Photo: Joi Ito


Downtown Dubai

This shot was captured on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, looking down on Downtown Dubai in various stages of construction. One of many carefully designed, mixed-use complexes, Downtown Dubai came with a price tag of US$20 billion.
Photo: Tom Olliver


A city constructed

The speed at which modern Dubai has sprung up is hard to conceptualize. In the mid-2000s, there were reports that one out of every four construction cranes in the world was in use here. That'd be 30,000 cranes. As this photographer noted, "When I first visited Dubai in 2000 there were 6 skyscrapers. By 2012 the projected development [in this small area along Sheikh Zayed Road] will bring more than 90."
Photo: Jake Brewer


Dubai Marina

Many of the iconic skyline views of Dubai actually belong to the Dubai Marina district. Here it is, as seen from the Palm Jumeirah development.
Photo: Pieter van Marion


Burj Khalifa at night

Completed in 2009, the 829.8m (2,722ft) Burj Khalifa is far and away the tallest human-made structure in the world—nothing else even tops 700. Its design incorporates various regional and Islamic influences.
Photo: Chris Hopkins Images


Needling the sky

A portrait showing the extent to which the Burj Khalifa has come to the define the skyline of modern Dubai.
Photo: KhanSaqib


Cayan Tower

An up-close view of the 90-degree twist of the Cayan Tower, a 306m (1,004ft) residential tower in Dubai Marina, and another great example of the groundbreaking architecture on display in Dubai.
Photo: Pieter van Marion


Dubai workers

Today's Dubai has been built on the backs of an army of hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly South and Southeast Asians, who live in conditions in stark contrast to the luxury they have constructed. Stories of deception, withheld wages and identification documents, and indentured labor abound.
Photo: Pieter van Marion


Burj Al Arab

The world's most luxurious hotel, depending on who you ask, sits adjacent to Jumeirah Beach, connected to the mainland by a private bridge. A quick Google search turned up rooms at around US$1,800 per night.
Photo: Pieter van Marion


Sand and sky

Two decades have brought such monumental change—what will Dubai look like in two more?
Photo: Hamama Harib

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