x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dubai's Toyota building: a block on the landscape

The old Toyota building might not be much to look at but its residents say they would not live anywhere else. Experts in architecture say while it is aesthetically unremarkable, it is a vital piece of the Dubai cityscape.

Outside view of the Toyota building near the Defence Roundabout on Sheikh Zayed Road.
Outside view of the Toyota building near the Defence Roundabout on Sheikh Zayed Road.

DUBAI // It is old, rundown and sits right next to one of the busiest interchanges in Dubai.

But residents of the Toyota building, "a massive concrete block" on Sheikh Zayed Road, believe it is one of the best places to live in the city.

It is less than 100 metres from the nearest metro station and offers some of the most affordable accommodation on the busy stretch.

"It's the cheapest apartment in this area," says the Filipino resident Jay Badilla, who works in Dubai Mall.

"It's an old building but it doesn't feel like it as the room has been refurbished. The only problem is that the windows are a bit too small."

The building's design dates back to a time when air conditioning was not as common in the city as it is today. The small windows and other features help to keep the rooms from heating up too much.

The building is about 90 per cent occupied and its popularity owes much to its reputation for low-cost housing.

Rent for a two-bedroom flat starts at about Dh45,000, much less than in the more modern residential blocks nearby.

Ali Hegazi, assistant manager and chef at Qasr Al Shouq, a catering business on the ground floor, has lived and worked in the building for seven years.

"It's good value and it's quite central," Mr Hegazi says. "Nothing is too far away from here."

The 15-storey tower's proper name is the Nasser Rashid Lootah Building. Its nickname came from the flashing neon Toyota advertisement that has been on its roof for more than 30 years.

When it was built in 1974, the apartment block was one of only three buildings in the area then known as Defence Roundabout.

Today, the roundabout has been replaced by a spaghetti junction of roads, amid one of the fastest developing areas of the city.

The building owners have considered replacing it with a more modern development, said Walid Nasser Rashid Lootah, a manager at the developer Nasser Rashid Lootah Real Estate.

But Mr Lootah says there are no plans to take down the building in the near future.

"We can't demolish it now," he says. "It's very old but it's still popular. Lots of the apartments are rented out."

Yasser Elsheshtawy, associate professor of architecture at UAE University, says the building is an important part of Dubai's history.

"It would be a great loss if it was demolished," Mr Elsheshtawy says. "Because it's so visible, it forms part of the visual heritage of Dubai and its history and development, even though architecturally it's not that exciting. It's a massive concrete block.

"But still, there's a lot of memory associated with the building."

He says it is remarkable the building has survived. Nearby, another local landmark from the 1990s, the Thunderbowl bowling alley, was demolished in the past year.

"Everything around it is either demolished or abandoned, but the Toyota building is still there," Mr Elsheshtawy says.

"I'm guessing that it will be around for a while longer. At some point it will be demolished but I don't anticipate that any time soon."

A long-term employee of Nasser Rashid Lootah Real Estate, who does not want to be identified, said says the building has always been an important part of the cityscape.

"This building is like a landmark," he says. "When it was built there was nothing else in this area, and everyone knew the Toyota building."