Dubai // Sheikh Zayed Road and Downtown Dubai //

South along Sheikh Zayed Road

South of the Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road continues in a more or less unbroken line of high-rises, looking like contestants in a bizarre postmodern architectural beauty parade. Heading down the strip brings you immediately to The Tower, a slender edifice rising to a neat pyramidal summit, with three tiers of stylized leaf-shaped metal protuberances sprouting from its sides. Right next door sits the thoroughly daft Al Yaqoub Tower: effectively a postmodern replica of London’s Big Ben, although at 330m it’s well over three times the height of the 96m-tall UK landmark. Two buildings down, the quirky Maze Tower (wmazetower.com), its facade covered in labyrinthine doodles, looks almost understated in comparison.

Further south the eye-catching Al Attar Tower (not to be confused with the nearby Al Attar Business Tower) appears to have been constructed entirely out of plate glass and enormous gold coins, while close by rises the graceful Rose Rayhaan – a beautifully slender and delicate structure, topped by a small globe which is illuminated prettily after dark. At 333m this was formerly the world’s tallest hotel until the recent opening of the new JW Marriott Marquis Dubai just down the road in Business Bay. Slightly further down stands the Rolex Tower, a rather severe rectangular mass of black glass with (apparently) a kind of card slot cut out of its uppermost floors, while across the road is the soaring Chelsea Tower, topped by what looks like an enormous toothpick. A short walk further south the strip reaches a suitably dramatic end with the iconic Dusit Thani hotel, a towering glass-and-metal edifice inspired by the traditional Thai wai, a prayer-like gesture of welcome, though it looks more like a huge upended tuning fork thrust into the ground.

An increasing number of wacky high-rises are also mushrooming in the area behind the Dusit Thani off Sheikh Zayed Road, including the pod-shaped Park Towers, the ovoid Emirates Financial Towers, the Islamic Bank Towers (aka Central Park Towers), with their unusual wedge-shaped summits, and the gargantuan The Index tower. The last is a rare (for Dubai) example of environmentally intelligent design, with the building’s main facades aligned exactly north–south, reducing the effects of the penetrating, low-angle morning and evening sun, while sunshades are used to keep the north and south fronts cool – all of which substantially reduces the need for air-conditioning, so that even in the hottest summer months the building’s internal temperature never exceeds 28°C, even without a/c – a far cry from most of the city’s glass-encased, energy-guzzling skyscrapers.