The earliest pastoral nomads once called Dubai and its environs home in ancient times. It was here that these Bronze Age shepherds founded the first date palm plantations, which became a serious impetus for the development of agriculture. By the fifth century AD, records show that the area had become a caravan station on an important trade route that linked Oman and Iraq. Interestingly, the thriving pearl trade in Dubai is mentioned in records courtesy of a Venetian pearl trader named Gaspero Balbi. He visited the area at the end of the sixteenth century. Skip a few hundred years and Dubai, now dependent on the political powers of Abu Dhabi, became a walled city in the early 1800s. In 1833, Dubai next came under the control of the Bani Was tribe. Under the leadership of Al Matkum, Dubai will regain its independence from Abu Dhabi and become an important fishing village and center for pearling. Unfortunately, by the beginning of the 20th century, factors such as the Great Depression and the creation of cultured pearls had practically turned Dubai into a trading wilderness. In 1966, the fortunes of Dubai changed markedly with the discovery of oil. While Dubai’s renaissance may be largely due to its oil reserves, other factors such as commerce and trade eventually transformed Dubai from a fishing settlement to a significant economic, political and cultural center by the 21st century.
But long before Dubai’s remarkable transformation into a metropolis, for example, in the mid-1960s, Dubai was still somewhat of a desert city, with its old quarter as its center and sparse buildings poking through the landscape. In addition to the old port of Al Fahidi Fort (Dubai’s oldest building), there is another attraction that has captured our imagination for nearly five decades. In the image above, circa 1985, the fifteen-story building, affectionately nicknamed the Toyota Building, stands out like a sore thumb. Interestingly, when it was finally built in 1974, three years after Dubai joined the federation known as the United Arab Emirates, the colossal apartment building appeared to be just one of three buildings in what was then called Protective junction. The building’s official name is the Nasser Rashid Luta Building, but over time it has been affectionately known as the Toyota Building.
It is fair to say that over the past 50 years, since the Emirate of Dubai joined the federation known as the United Arab Emirates, its capital has grown into one of the richest cities in the Middle East. Today Dubai boasts one of the highest skylines on the planet. By all accounts, it ranks third in the world after Hong Kong and New York in terms of the number of high-rise structures over 150 meters high.
The image above, where a modest roundabout at a defensive roundabout once stood, now shows an impressive network of roads and arteries connecting the city, which is now home to nearly three million people. On the left in the foreground, in addition to the giant intersection of Al Safa and Sheikh Zayed Road (Toll Road), there is also a Toyota building. It is tiny compared to the picturesque skyscrapers that stretch up the Sheikh Zayed Toll Road. It is unbelievable to think that it has survived decades of modern development. It was only recently that Toyota’s iconic billboard was removed after its ten-year sponsorship expired. There appear to be no plans to demolish the Toyota building either, despite Dubai’s forward-thinking and pioneering efforts in technology, architecture and urban planning. According to renowned scholar and architecture professor Yasser Elsheshtavi, the Toyota building is an important part of Dubai’s history. While it may eventually be demolished one day, let’s hope it continues to survive into the future, at least as a nostalgic reminder of Dubai’s modern past.