Therese Chidiac


Despite the crisis of the metaphoric growth of its superficiality to its deadening sterility, Dubai stands as an attractive destination in the desert simulating a collage of cultural images from around the world with a centrally-planned free market capitalism attracting investors and developers. This paper is part of my master in architecture thesis at Politecnico di Milano titled: 5km/hr Manifesto and it outlines the problematical aspect of Dubai DNA: Dubai public spaces. The city is metaphorically analysed, as a collage city of exogenous fragments and a system city resembling a biological cell with defects in it’s the so-called public spaces that are designed as a model of a virtual panopticon of social surveillance forged by a set of do’s and don’ts. Built up rapidly over the past few years on the wealth gotten from oil, public spaces in Dubai have no depth of history or indigenous culture, no complexity, no conflicts, no doubts, nothing to stand in the way of its being shaped into the ultimate wonderland. The Arab notion of public has been dramatically ignored in the planning of the city and has been replaced with a collage of regulated western modernist spaces that have failed to create pockets of interaction and communication bringing in mind a problematical situation and an utopic question: How to demystify the panopticon effect and make Dubai more liveable? This leads to the recall of the qualities of the endogenous Arabic Public Space: The Souk. A set of characteristics has been concluded and if integrated, might really change Dubai public spaces from a paranoic panopticon to a more liveable space. Enclosure and privacy, human scale and density, the stage and back stage effect were essential conditions in the souk and are elaborated in this paper presenting a set of new design guidelines for claiming back what is supposed to be public and might develop into further future research.


How to Cite
Chidiac, T. (2020) “Double P! Public Spaces in Dubai: a Paranoiac Panopticon”, The Journal of Public Space, 5(1), pp. 247–262. doi: 10.32891/jps.v5i1.1141.
Author Biography

Therese Chidiac, Politecnico di Milano

After graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture at Notre Dame University with Summa Cum Laude highest recognition and after receiving a scholarship from the Italian Ministry of Foreign affairs to pursue a Master of Science in Architecture at Politecnico di Milano, I had the opportunity to develop my thesis under the supervision of Prof. Stefano Boeri and Prof. Michele Brunello: 5km/hr Manifesto - Branding Strategy through activism. In this thesis I elaborated on the future of the architecture discipline, on start-up studios, on the forgotten social agenda and on the right to public spaces in cities such as Dubai. I am convinced of the necessity of the “avant-gardiste" attitude of the architect especially on decision making level. We have the tools and the vision to change paradigmatically the turn of events on urban, socio-economical and political levels. Thus, besides my freelance job as architect for private clients in the middle east, I keep fighting for the right to public spaces and this belief motivated me to co-found a NGO in Beirut in 2018 called Forever Young NGO that aims to improve the society’s perspective towards the seniors citizens, avoiding their marginalisation and strengthening their integration in an age-friendly designed environment.


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