Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

The UAE’s international foundations run deep

Innovators from around the world helped build the country’s infrastructure

More details about how the emirate will be affected will be made over the coming days. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
More details about how the emirate will be affected will be made over the coming days. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

When the late Dr Katsuhiko Takahashi – then a fresh-faced Japanese urban planning graduate – approached the Pan American Airlines ticket desk in New York after a call from the Japanese ambassador in Kuwait in 1967 to begin the Abu Dhabi adventure, he was asked if it was a town in the Caribbean. In one stunning year, he and Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, begun transforming Abu Dhabi from a fishing village into a modern global city based on peace, progress, security and welfare. For the city’s wide roads, corniche and greenery, we have Dr Takahashi to thank. It was in that spirit that Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, minister of foreign affairs and international co-operation, met Dr Takahashi’s children in Hiroshima this week, to honour Abu Dhabi’s first urban planner. Given this country’ startling growth in mere decades, there is a tendency to assume that its cosmopolitanism is newfound. But as Dr Takahashi’s story demonstrates, international ties run far deeper. For centuries Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been hubs of trade and understanding, where multiple worlds converged. Today that convergence is written into its splendid skylines.

Sheikh Zayed saw cities as organic, capable of expanding and changing naturally. It was a vision shared by Dr Takahashi and his Egyptian successor, Dr Abdulrahman Maklouf, whose Abu Dhabi masterplan gave the city its soul. Nonetheless, engaging in frank dialogue with dynamic planners is a testament to the magnanimity of Sheikh Zayed, who set a trend that lives on today. The magnificent Louvre Abu Dhabi was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. Americans designed the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building – and the Emirates Palace. But foreigners can also preserve. In 1989 British architect Rayner Otter led a successful campaign to save Dubai’s historic Bastakiya area – now known as Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood – earmarked for demolition. A long tradition of international interchange will stand the UAE in good stead as it transitions towards an inclusive and dynamic knowledge economy. Sheikh Abdullah’s trip honours an outsider who partook in this country’s miraculous development. Taking time to do so is necessary during the Year of Zayed, because the UAE’s building blocks transcend the bonds of nationality.