Written By Roshni Bose.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Dubai? Let me take a wild guess. The tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa. No? Perhaps, it’s the only 7-star hotel in the world, Burj Al Arab, that comes to mind.
Still no? Maybe it’s the crazy number of ‘dream cars’ that occupy the streets of Dubai. If your answer is still no, then it has to be a camel race with robot jockeys or a 24-carat gold facial or sleeping underwater with fishes or buying gold from an ATM machine or snowboarding in real snow with real penguins, yep, you heard that right.
And I know what you’re thinking. Dubai sounds like Narnia at this point. And to be fair, you’re not alone in this emotion. Dubai has absolutely no match when it comes to making dreams turn into realities, however crazy they may be.
However, Dubai’s real estate sector feels this way more than anyone else in the country because they successfully managed to celebrate a 20 million dollar opening of the Atlantis hotel on the Palm Jumeirah Island, a man-made island in the grandest way the world has seen in the middle of a global financial crisis in 2008.
I feel like I need to type in caps to stress how insane all of this is. At this point, you’re probably going to say, well, a point established: Dubai’s infrastructure is ambitious and it delivers, so nothing to complain about, right? Well, not entirely, enter The World Islands.
Remember the global financial crisis we talked about which Dubai completely ignored to inaugurate their luxurious hotel on a luxurious island? Yeah, turns out the 2008 monetary massacre did catch up with Dubai in due time.
What’s that got to do with world islands and what on earth are these world islands anyway, you may ask? Well, to answer this question, we need to time travel back to 2003 when all the man-made island talks were born in the city of Dubai.
History- How Were The World Islands Built?
In 2003, Nakheel Properties, a real estate company owned by the government of Dubai was reluctant to change the region within two decades. The reason being, in the early 2000s, the real estate boom in the UAE seemed unstoppable and real estate developers saw enormous potential in artificial land off the coast of Dubai.
So, Nakheel properties decided to create three islands which when viewed from space would represent three palm trees. These islands were namely, Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira. To this list, the World Islands were added.
The idea was exactly what it sounds like. To represent something like the map of our world, when viewed from space. As you can imagine, this was a pretty cool idea and everyone was convinced that it will further increase the tourist attraction Dubai is inherently famous for.
Soon, it became the poster child for Dubai’s real estate market with the government spending a whopping 14 billion dollars. To put this into perspective, that’s 9 identical copies of the world’s tallest building or 13 new 7 star hotels or another, Palm Jumeirah island.
Geography Of The World Islands
Let’s talk about geography, shall we? The initial plan was to build 300 islands representing every country in the world, 200 miles off the coast of the mainland that can be covered using a boat.
We all know what the world looks like but pulling this off is quite the ordeal. Starting the project from scratch called for 321 million cubic meters of sand distributed across 300 islands each about 5 to 20 acres in size.
The construction also includes 34 billion tonnes of large rocks used to build the foundation. The World Islands encompasses over 20 square miles of land with each island having 330 feet of water body separating them.
All this great planning which would supposedly boost the Dubai economy ended being the opposite. After spending billions of dollars in the making of these man-made archipelagos, finally, in 2009 the project came to a pause after being hit by the Global Financial Crisis.
By this point, 60% of the islands were sold to small companies and investors. But, even after the financial recovery and the rest of Dubai returning back to investing in other real estate projects, the dream of World Islands remained at a halt. But why?
Why Did The World Islands Project Fail?
The World Islands which were supposed to home hotels and mansions and penthouses for local and international celebrities now remains empty. But there’s more than one reason behind this.
Almost forgotten for 10 years, questions arose about the longevity of the project. With rising sea levels, projects like these are at high risk. The small channels between the islands started to sand up, losing their well-defined borders. What was once supposed to be the mirror image of the world, failed to even vaguely resemble it.
Most of the countries were unrecognizable, unfinished or absent. The aesthetic which was the key factor leading this movement turned out to be a complete mess. Moreover, the islands started attracting multiple environmental issues that were previously not highlighted.
Even at an archipelago as successful as the Palm Jumeirah with hundreds of properties housing wealthy residents, complaints arise of poor water quality. The seawater within the palm that grows stagnant by the day, due to the disturbances in tidal movements is caused by the breakwater protecting the palm from erosion.
Additionally, the thousands of tonnes of sand piled on a seabed previously flat to build these islands not only affect the marine ecology but also threatens erosion of the natural Dubai coastline as most of the sand was drawn from there.
Another concerning reason was the lack of electricity. The islands didn’t have access to electricity which was a bummer considering the mega properties Dubai planned to attract international tourists. It was planned that electric cables were going to be installed under the Persian gulf but alas, never carried out.
On top of these, projects like these require construction workers in millions. And the difficult living conditions for the migrant workers in Dubai is a matter of concern in regards to the ethical work environment and basic human rights, receiving great media attention.
The Heart of Europe
Even with a 90% failure, The World Islands is slowly trying to take shape. In 2014, an Austrian real estate investor showed interest in developing a number of projects in the European islands, calling it “The Heart of Europe” project.
The idea was to curate an aesthetic based on the European culture, like palaces and hotels inspired by architecture in Venice and Monaco and restaurants serving a wide variety of European dishes.
In the present world, the Heart of Europe project has aged like fine wine. Starting with the 20 million dirhams aka 5.4 million dollar floating vacation villas, also known as “seahorse”.
Yep, Dubai’s at it again. Seahorse is a 4000 square foot floating villa with 2 bedrooms and 4 water closets but in reality, you can practically turn your kitchen into a bedroom if you want.
It was an upper and lower open deck looking over at the skyline of Dubai and by any chance, if you happen to be on one of these on New Year’s, you can see the firework celebration at 3 different locations, right from the comfort of your own personal hot tub.
With top-class furniture and marble-covered everything, Seahorse lets you shower while literally looking over at the ocean. Speaking of looking over at the ocean, the master bedroom is actually underground so you can watch TV or scroll through your phone while looking over at the ocean but this time, from the inside.
In fact, you have the option to choose what kind of fish you’ll like to see outside your 10 cm thick, bulletproof, acrylic window. How? Well, Dubai has prepared a special coral farm that are artificially made to attract specific varieties of fish. No, I am not kidding you.
The Sweden Palace: Thoe
If you’re somehow not baffled by all of that, don’t worry, Dubai has more in store for you. Over on the Sweden island, there’s a 21 million dollar, 7 bedroom mansion, known as “The Sweden Palace: Thoe.”
To get to this palace you have first, of course, to take a motorboat to the island and then walk through a man-made amazon style rainforest on the island.
Built on a 23,000 square feet plot, this mansion has 6 floors (don’t sweat yet, of course, you have a private elevator) and the architecture is supposed to resemble an upside-down Viking ship with a dragon head on top.
As the name suggests, it indeed is a palace with all the furniture custom made by Bentley. In a world, we didn’t even know Bentley manufactured furniture in the first place.
Let’s get a little crazier now. Inside you will get a private gym, a massage room with the Bentley starlit rooftop which resembles the Swedish northern lights, a fully equipped, marble-covered chef’s kitchen where you can cook for about 150 people, a private sauna and if you’re not ready for this, a snow room.
With real snow. You can also witness a gigantic family lounge, and the master bedroom, apart from being insanely luxurious with a chandelier right over your bed and a breathtaking ocean view, also has a 1 million dirham one-piece marble bathtub with not a single crack in it! And the top floor is absolutely something you will only see at a 5-star hotel.
The Royal Shisha Lounge, hosting up to 200 people, looking over the entire Dubai skyline and oh yes if you happen to be there on the 31st of December, chances are you’ll get to see the firework celebrations all over Dubai. And to answer your question, yes you have a private Jacuzzi.
Well, the future for the World Islands may be uncertain but there’s definitely hope. Lots of it. And, given the growth rate and all the crazy things Dubai makes the headlines for, we can never guess when these islands will become a fresh obsession all over again.
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