ABU DHABI SURPRISE (PART 1 OF 3)

IN THE LATE SPRING OF 2007 I GET THIS VERY UNEXPECTED PHONE CALL OUT OF THE BLUE FROM MICHAEL ROTUNDI. ROTUNDI AND I GO BACK TO CAL POLY POMONA IN 1971 WHEN HE WAS A STUDENT AND I A PROFESSOR. HE LEFT POMONA AND WAS ONE OF THE ORIGINAL STUDENTS AT SCI-ARC AND FIRST TO GRADUATE. HE BECAME A PARTNER WITH THOM MAYNE AND DIRECTOR OF THE SCI-ARC GRADUATE PROGRAM AND DIRECTOR OF THE SCHOOL IN 1987. RAY KAPPE CHOSE HIM TO FOLLOW HIM VS. THE HARDER EDGED THOM MAYNE. I EVEN VOTED FOR HIM WITH KAPPE HANDLING MY VOTE WHILE I WAS IN NICARAGUA. THE FIRST LUNCHEON WE HAD, HE TOLD ME TO TRUST HIM. WELL, GOOD TURNED TO BAD AND ROTUNDI WAS THE FRONT MAN TO GET RID OF ME AS A PROFESSOR, WHICH EVENTUALLY CAME TO PASS IN 1990 AFTER A BITTER BATTLE. SO YOU CAN IMAGINE HOW SHOCKED I WAS TO HEAR FROM HIM.

LEE TABLER AND GLEN HOWARD SMALL IN OREGON

MICHAEL TOLD ME HE HAD JUST BEEN TO DUBAI FOR AN ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION CONFERENCE, AND HAD BEEN TOLD BY A FORMER SCI-ARC STUDENT TO MAKE CONTACT WITH ANOTHER FORMER SCI-ARC STUDENT LEE TABLER, NOW A BIG-TIME DEVELOPER. MICHAEL WENT TO VISIT LEE IN HIS HOUSE, AND ALL LEE COULD TALK ABOUT WAS GLEN SMALL HIS FORMER PROFESSOR. MICHAEL GAVE ME LEE TABLER’S E-MAIL AND TOLD ME TO CONTACT HIM. IT WAS KIND AND MUTURE OF MICHAEL ROTUNDI TO DO SO.

AS A STUDENT AT SCI-ARC IN 1976, LEE WAS A STRIKING FIGURE. HIS MOTHER WAS POLYNESIAN AND HIS FATHER GERMAN. HE WAS A BODY BUILDER GUY WITH PRECISE GROOMING . HE DRESSED GQ AND HAD A QUIET STRONG DEMEANOR. LIKE CLARK KENT. HIS INSTRUCTOR WAS ERIC MOSS, BUT THEY HAD THEIR DIFFERENCES. AT THAT TIME AT SCI-ARC YOU COULD SELECT ANOTHER PROFESSOR WITH WHOM TO DO INDIVIDUAL STUDY, SO I BECAME LEE’S PROFESSOR AND ALSO ATTENDED HIS WEDDING. LEE CHOOSE A DIFFERENT PATH. HE WENT OFF TO PARIS AND GOT A PLANNING DEGREE. I LOST TRACK OF HIM. LEE ALSO EARNED A BUSINESS DEGREE AND WENT INTO THE DEVELOPER WORLD.

I PUT TOGETHER A DREAM E-MAIL TO LEE TABLER, SAYING I UNDERSTOOD HE WAS A BIG TIME DEVELOPER AND MAYBE HE HAD SOME WORK FOR ME. HE WOULD HANDLE ALL THE CONNECTIONS AND RUN INTERFERENCE LIKE ROGER LEWITES HAD DONE IN NICARAGUA FOR ME.

LEE E-MAILED BACK ON HIS BLACKBERRY FROM THE SCOTTISH OPEN THAT HE WAS NOT A DEVELOPER, BUT A HIRED HAND ADVISOR TO THE CROWN PRINCE, AND THAT YES I HAD GOTTEN EVERYTHING ELSE RIGHT IN THE E-MAIL.

AFTER A FLURRY OF E-MAILS, LEE AND HIS SECOND IN COMMAND STUART MAGEE ARRIVED IN PORTLAND OREGON. I TOOK THEM OUT TO MULTLOMA FALLS WITH MY WIFE TO SEE THE BEAUTIFUL NATURE OF OREGON AND HAVE LUNCH. STUART WAS PROBABLY FIFTEEN YEARS YOUNGER THAN LEE AND AN ENGINEER.

I SHOWED MY PORTFOLIO TO THEM, WITH A PROPOSAL FOR DUBAI MAIN CORRIDOR DEVELOPMENT. THEY POINTED OUT THAT THEIR OFFICE WAS IN ABU DHABI—I WAS NOT EVEN IN THE RIGHT COUNTRY. THE SCHEME WAS BRILLIANT FOR DUBAI.

STUART SHOWED ME ON HIS COMPUTER THE PROJECTS IN THEIR OFFICE. FRANK GEHRY MUSEUM, NOUVEL MUSEUM,  ZAHA HADID PERFORMING ARTS COMPLEX, AND A BUNCH OF LOW RISE HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS. LEE MENTIONED THE MUSEUMS DID NOT HAVE TO MAKE MONEY, BUT THE DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS DID. I WAS TO WORK IN THE DEVELOPMENT SIDE. MY IMMEDIATE REACTION, UPON SEEING THE DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS,WAS THAT THEY NEEDED MY HELP. THEY SHOULD JUST PUT ME IN AN OFFICE AND RUN THINGS BY ME TO GET ADVICE.

STUART WENT INTO SHOCK, AND SAID I WOULD FRIGHTEN HIS EX-PATRIOT STAFF TO DEATH. LEE REMAINED CALM AND SAID THEY WOULD FIGURE OUT WHAT PROJECT WOULD SUIT ME BEST. I WOULD GET MY FINANCIAL INSTRUCTION FROM STUART AND SHOULD NOT TALK TO LEE ABOUT FINANCIAL MATTERS. LEE REFERRED TO MY HOTEL PROPOSALS FOR NICARAGUA AS SOMETHING THEY MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN DOING.

CHAD OVERWAY

THE NEXT E-MAIL I GET IS FROM CHAD OVERWAY, AN ARCHITECT FROM SAN FRANCISCO AND OWNER OF A NEUTRA HOUSE, TELLING ME WE WOULD BE WORKING TOGETHER ON A RESORT ON SIR BANI YAS IN ABU DHABI. I LOOKED UP CHAD ON THE INTERNET AND WAS SHOCKED—HIS WORK SHOWED NO HINT OF ANY CONNECTION TO MY DESIGN PHILOSOPHY.

I WAS DISTRAUGHT. FIRST, I WAS USE TO PICKING MY OWN STAFF, AND SECOND THIS WAS A PERSON WHO COULD NOT RELATE TO MY WORK.

LEE ASSURED ME CHAD WAS A GOOD GUY TO ASSIST ME AND THAT IT WAS VERY CLEAR TO EVERYONE THAT HIS HIS ROLE WAS ONE OF SUPPORT. LEE AND CHAD HAD TRAVELED EUROPE TOGETHER AS YOUNG MEN AND WERE CLOSE FRIENDS.

CHAD WAS A GRADUATE OF SCI-ARC AND CRANBROOK. HE HAD ERIC MOSS AS WELL AND ERIC GAVE HIM A HARD TIME.

I CALMED DOWN, BUT I IMMEDIATELY THOUGHT OF A SPY IN MY OFFICE.

MICHAEL ROTUNDI CALLED ME TO ASK HOW THINGS WERE GOING. I TOLD HIM I WAS DOING AN ECO-RESORT; HE SAID THAT WAS FINE, BUT I REALLY SHOULD BE USED AS A MENTOR, SINCE I WAS CLEAN ARCHITECTURALLY AND COULD ADVISE LEE WELL. I RELAYED THIS TO LEE WITH NO RESPONSE. I ASKED MICHAEL ROTUNDI WHY HE FOUGHT TO TERMINATE ME AT SCI-ARC? HIS ANSWER WAS HE WAS YOUNG AND DID NOT KNOW BETTER.

WE WERE SENT A MASTER PLAN DONE BY EDAW IN ENGLAND: A LARGE PLANNING FIRM THAT TDIC (LEE TABLER’S COMPANY) WAS WORKING WITH.

THE SITE

THERE WAS A SMALL PRIVATE AIRFIELD NEXT TO THE SITE WHICH I POINTED OUT. BUT NOBODY SEEMED ALARMED. THE PROPOSED SITE PLAN WAS VERY AMBITIOUS WITH NUMEROUS WATERWAYS DREDGED OUT OF THE SITE. THE ARCHITECTURE DEPICTED WAS HIDEOUS.

WATER TURNED OFF

THE SITE WAS DREDGED SAND FROM THE GULF, ONE MILE WIDE AND THREE MILES LONG, THAT HAD BEEN ADDED TO THE ISLAND. A VERY AMBITIOUS, BUT UNREALISTIC PLAN HAD BEEN BY A PREVIOUS SHEIK WHO WANTED THE ISLAND TO BE GREEN AND AN ANIMAL RESERVE. ALL WATER HAD TO BE BROUGHT OVER FROM THE MAINLAND FROM A DESALINATION PLANT.

FEEDING THE ANIMALS

THERE WERE BLACK IRRIGATION LINES RUNNING EVERYWHERE THAT HAD BEEN ABANDONED BECAUSE IT WAS TOO MUCH TO WATER. THE ANIMALS WERE BROUGHT FOOD FROM THE MAINLAND DAILY. THERE WERE ANIMALS LIKE WATER BUFFALOES, GIRAFFES, AND A SMALL ANTELOPE (THE ONLY NATIVE SPECIES.) THERE WAS TALK ABOUT BRINGING IN CARNIVOROUS ANIMALS LIKE CHEETAHS TO THIN THE HERDS.

WHERE IS AFRICA?

I ASKED FOR THE CONSULTING SERVICES OF GREG DAVIS WHO HAD WORKED FOR ME ON THE GREEN MACHINE, SPENT HIS WHOLE PROFESSIONAL CAREER ON ECO PROJECTS, AND WAS WORKING IN NIGERIA ON LOW COST HOUSING. THEY SAID IT WAS TOO EARLY FOR HIS SERVICES.

MY CONCEPT WAS TO LOOK VERY CAREFULLY AT THE NATURAL SYSTEMS THE NATIVES OF THIS PART OF THE WORLD HAD USED TO COOL THEMSELVES FOR CENTURIES, AND USING THAT KNOWLEDGE DO A PROJECT INVOLVING SOPHISTICATED USE OF THESE NATURAL METHODS, ELIMINATING MACHINE ORIENTED SOLUTIONS. TO PITCH A TOTAL ECO-RESORT USING GARDENS AND FISH PONDS FOR FOOD ETC.; NO GREEN PUTTING GREENS. I NEVER HAD TIME, NOR THE CONSULTANTS TO PURSUE THESE CONCERNS FULLY.

TONIA (STUART'S WIFE), ISLAND MANAGER, STUART, CHAD ON THE SITE

CHAD AND I WERE SENT TO ABU DHABI TO CHECK IT OUT. THERE WAS AN INITIAL MEETING WHERE LEE SPOKE ELOQUENTLY OF A TOTALLY UNIQUE ECOLOGICAL PROJECT. I MENTIONED THAT THE WORKERS QUARTERS SHOULD BE PART OF THE PROGRAM. LEE’S REPLY WAS AN OUTBURST OF DISGUST, SAYING THAT I WAS JUST LIKE A BUNCH OF OTHER FIRST TIME OBSERVERS WHO DID NOT KNOW THE SITUATION OF THE WORKERS IN ABU DHABI. SINCE THEN, I NOTICED THAT IDEAL WORKERS COMPOUNDS HAVE BEEN IMPLEMENTED WHERE THE MUSEUMS ARE BEING BUILT. I WAS NOT USED TO BEING TALKED DOWN TO LIKE THAT, AND WAS SHOCKED BY HIS COMMANDING ROLE.

WE DID A FIVE DAY STINT ON THE ISLAND SIZING UP THE SITE AND TERRAIN. A FEW WINDMILLS, A BUNCH OF ANIMALS, NO REAL TOWN OF CONSEQUENCE, AND A GLIMPSE OF THE WORKERS CAMP. WE HAD OUR OWN UPGRADED CAMP. THERE WERE A COUPLE OF PALACES THAT WERE OFF LIMITS. WE WERE PROFESSIONAL HANDS FROM FOREIGN LANDS. THERE WAS NO NATIVE SCENE BUILD TO LEARN FROM. THE NEW ISLAND MANAGER WAS FROM SOUTH AFRICA WITH ANIMAL EXPERIENCE. THERE WAS A CONCRETE PLANT AND MOUNDS OF IRRIGATION PIPES DISCARDED.

I DID A COUPLE OF ROUGH CONCEPT MODELS OF THE HOTEL AND GOLF CLUB IN TWO DAYS, I AM EXTREMELY FAST AT PROCESSING PROGRAMS AND DOING DESIGNS. IT IS A BLESSING AND A CURSE, BECAUSE WHEN PEOPLE SEE HOW EASY AND FAST IT IS FOR ME THEY DO NOT PAY THE SAME MONEY THAT OTHER DESIGNERS CHARGE AND TAKE MONTHS FOR THEM TO DO, AND EVEN THEN THEIR SCHEMES ARE QUESTIONABLE.

GOLF CLUB

GOLF CLUB

HOTEL

HOTEL

CHAD AND I DID A ROUGH SITE PLAN. THE SITE SITE HAD AN INTERESTING BREAKWATER FOR SOIL RETENTION THAT WAS COMPOSED OF JETTY WALLS THAT DEVELOPED SMALL COVES. CHAD AND I FELT WE COULD USE THESE ALONG WITH AN EXISTING INLET TO GET THE WATER FEATURES NEEDED. IN THE PRESENTATION TO STUART, STUART QUESTIONED THE COMPLEXITY OF THE GOLF CLUB. HIS WIFE TONIA THOUGHT IT WAS GREAT, I RESPONDED BY SAYING LEE, HIS BOSS, WOULD UNDERSTAND. I HEARD BACK FROM LEE LATER THIS WAS NOT THE PROPER PROTOCOL. GIVE ME A BREAK, THIS WAS NOT THE ARMY AND I AM NOT A SCHOOL KID THAT NEEDS TO SIT IN THE CORNER.

THE WHOLE PROCESS OF LEAVING FROM SAN FRANCISCO ON BRITISH AIRWAYS WAS NEW TO ME. BUSINESS CLASS WITH BED SEATS. THE CHANGING OF PLANES IN HEATHROW AND LANDING IN DUBAI IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. THE AIRPORT SWARMING WITH WORKERS IN TRANSIT. WE WERE PICKED UP IN A LIMOUSINE AND WHISKED AWAY TO A NEW FIVE STAR HOTEL IN ABU DHABI. I WAS STARTLED BY THE CANYON OF HIGH RISES IN DUBAI. NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT, NEW YORK WAS TINY IN COMPARISON. THE NOVELTY WORE OFF ON THE SECOND TRIP. AND THE JET LAG, 17 HOUR TRIP WAS WEARING ON ONE. HOW LEE AND OTHERS LIKE HIM DO THIS ON A CONSTANT BASIS IS A CHALLENGE. I DID MEET THE COMPOSER OF THE 007 THEME MUSIC ON ONE TRIP. HE AND HIS WIFE WERE FLYING FROM LONDON TO NAPA VALLEY TO CHECK OUT THE WINE.

STUART TOOK US TO A LARGE NEW HOTEL THAT WAS OSTENTATIOUS AND IN BAD TASTE. HUGE SQUARE CROSSINGS WHERE THE ROOF IS A GIGANTIC DOME. THERE WAS NO NATUAL LIGHT EXCEPT ON THE PERIPHERY.

HANGING OUT IN A FANTASY

FROM MY HOTEL WINDOW, TOUGHING IT OUT

I HAVE SEEN INTERVIEWS AND REPORTERS GUSHING OVER THIS BUILDING ON TV. WHAT A MONUMENT TO CRASS ARAB BAD TASTE. NOBODY SEEMED TO MIND, BECAUSE IT WAS A CONSPICUOUS SHOW OF MONEY. THIS WAS IN STARK CONTRAST TO WHAT I HAD SEEN IN HISTORY BOOKS OF THE EXQUISITE ARCHITECTURE OF THE MIDDLE EAST.  THERE WAS A MUSEUM SPACE IN THE HOTEL WITH ALL THE PROJECTS TDIC WAS INVOLVED WITH. THERE WAS A MASTER PLAN OF A PROSAIC TOWN SURROUNDING THE NEW MUSEUMS AND PERFORMING ARTS BUILDING , THAT I FOUND BEGGING FOR BETTER DESIGN. I MENTIONED THIS TO STUART AND HE SAID THIS WAS LEE’S BABY AND LEE WOULD GET VERY DISTRAUGHT IF I MENTIONED IT TO HIM.

GEHRY MUSEUM, NOVEL MUSEUM, ZAHA HAFID PERFORMING ARTS COMPLEX, SURROUNDED BY TDIC DEVELOPMENT TOWN, ABU DAHBI

WHAT I SAW WAS ALL THE MONEY THAT A CITY PLANNER COULD HOPE FOR TURNING INTO A HERE AND NOW DEVELOPER SCHEME, RATHER THAN PUSHING AN INTEGRATED HOLISTIC APPROACH, THAT WOULD REPRESENT A STELLAR EXAMPLE TO EMULATE. THE TOWN WAS STARTING FROM SCRATCH, BUT AT THAT MOMENT WAS IN THE FINAL STAGES BEFORE CONSTRUCTION. I COULD NOT REDESIGN IT, BUT I WANTED TO.

TDIC DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL ABU DHABI

IN OUR HOTEL I WITNESSED FAMILIES IN FLOWING ROBES, THE MALE IN WHITE AND THE KIDS AND FEMALES IN BLACK. LARGE GROUPS OF WOMEN SITTING AROUND TALKING TO EACH OTHER. MOVEMENT WAS ON FREEWAYS. THE NEW MOSQUE DOMINATED THE SKYLINE.

ON THE FREEWAY, ABU DHABI

THERE WAS A SURREAL ELEMENT, ALMOST LIKE TWILIGHT ZONE. BOARD FREEWAYS, NEW CARS, AND MINOR ROAD CREWS EVER SO OFTEN. I WAS UPSET WITH THE 200 KILOMETERS PER HOUR WHICH IS ABOUT 120 MILES PER HOUR. I HAD TO KEEP REMINDING THE DRIVER TO SLOW DOWN. MY TRIP WAS PROGRAMMED AND I NEVER DID EXPERIENCE DOWNTOWN ABU DHABI OR DUBAI . THE FIGURES ARE ASTOUNDING. BUT ONLY 10% OF THE POPULATION IS NATIVE, THE REST ARE WORKERS OF DIFFERENT LEVELS OF CAPACITY. I WAS A HIRED HAND.

108 MPH!

WE WERE GIVEN THE GO AHEAD.

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11 comments

  1. I must say u have caught my undivided attention. I recently(about a month ago) stumbled upon your blog somehow I was casually surfing the web, when I arrived at your post about ‘the Uniform,Dress code of the Architect’ which was very interesting and made me bookmark your blog. But the prompting of my comment at this very moment is due to your involvement in a project based in Abu Dhabi, considering I am from the Emirates myself, I found the whole post highly amusing and enjoyed seeing u unravel the whole mystique/mirage quite well. I agree with pretty much all of your statements ranging from the ones about being in the ‘military’ to the crass comment: ‘WHAT A MONUMENT TO CRASS ARAB BAD TASTE. NOBODY SEEMED TO MIND, BECAUSE IT WAS A CONSPICUOUS SHOW OF MONEY’ very true. Nobody minds cause its as everyone is in the same twilight zone!!!

    I am currently studying architecture in London. I am about to enter my fourth year, and find myself an avid reader of many diff kinds of architectural topics, discussions and so forth. I have lived outside of the U.A.E for more than 5 years, returning here whenever i can to see my family and friends. It never ceases to amaze me how things here are always treated with the same narrow gold dogma architecture, music, concerts, shows, cars, etc..

    I have always strongly felt that the potential of what I believe u to call ‘Holistic’ architecture response here has failed. I have a great desire to inject the culture and traditional values i was brought up with into the burgeoning city. But I believe the train is sadly in motion and it would be hard to jump now and change course. Even though i still have a long way to go to becoming an ‘Architect’. I enjoy witnessing a visionary architect such as yourself take on the dilemma’s of such a beautiful place, hoping that one day I might find myself in your shoes.

    Look forward to seeing more of the same…..

    • HASHKAL

      THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENTS AND UNDERSTANDING. I WISH YOU ALL THE SUCCESS IN YOUR QUEST TO CONVEY THE BEAUTY OF YOUR CULTURE IN ARCHITECTURE.

      KNOWLEDGE IS THE KEY AND YOU ARE WELL ON YOUR WAY.

      GLEN

  2. Hi Glen,
    This is Tima. Not sure if you know this, but I graduated from Sci-ARC about 10 years ago. I have had my own practice (sometimes with a partner) ever since. I do enjoy your blog, reminds me a bit of my childhood. I still vividly remember the lightsaber you made for me one haloween.
    In any case, the project sounds interesting and I’m looking forward to reading more. And if you need an adjunct LA office . . .
    Good Luck and do your best to deviate from the “programmed trip”. My cousin was an evangalist over there and there’s an interesting side to those who do not live in 5 star hotels and drive limos.
    Best,
    Tima

  3. “…IT IS A BLESSING AND A CURSE, BECAUSE WHEN PEOPLE SEE HOW EASY AND FAST IT IS FOR ME THEY DO NOT PAY THE SAME MONEY THAT OTHER DESIGNERS CHARGE AND TAKE MONTHS FOR THEM TO DO, AND EVEN THEN THEIR SCHEMES ARE QUESTIONABLE.”

    lame!

    • DEAR BOSS,

      I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH YOU ABOUT YOUR CONCERNS, PLEASE ELABORATE ON YOUR REMARK: “LAME”.

      THANKS,

      GLEN

    • love it. actually Glen, if a designer can’t do what you’re doing they shouldn’t be a designer. it’s pretty pathetic when a team of 10 designers in a corporate studio spend 5 weeks x 40 hours a week to come up with something you or I or many architect’s i’ve worked under can do overnight…

      the trick though is to make it appear you needed a team of 10 people, so you hire 10 interns and pay them little to check emails and doodle all day…

      a friend recommended me your blog and since Orhan is recommending it as well it has to be good.

      so i’ll divide my time between you and Lebbues woods …

  4. Hello Glen, I came across your blog through words of Orhan via Archinect. I am a 5th year student at Cal Poly Pomona. I just want to say how delightful it is to find such a rare and revealing story-telling blog such as yours….so raw….so honest…it’s great. Looking forward to your next entry.

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