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Simon Texier and Jean-François Doulet, Abou Dhabi: Stade ultime du modernisme

Paris, Éditions B2, 2016 (Territoires)
Adham Fahmy
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Simon Texier and Jean-François Doulet, Abou Dhabi: Stade ultime du modernisme, Paris, Éditions B2, 2016 (Territoires)

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urban planning

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Index chronologique :

XXe siècle, XXIe siècle
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1This book belongs to Territoires (Éditions B2), and adopts the series’ small-size layout. It is composed of two essays (the chronology of Abu Dhabian urbanism post-1960-2000s, and Masdar City as a pioneering case of sustainable urbanism in this region). While this compact travel book format might be suitable for many other subjects, it does not lend itself easily to scholarly content on urbanism that uses plans, maps, and photos. Text layout is particularly crowded, using three-hundred-word-pages in this tiny format, and footnotes in yellow on a white background. The 10 x 15 cm pages, though fitting for a travel book, are not easily legible.

2The authors are two French scholars, commenting on Abou Dhabian urbanism from an European expat perspective. Simon Texier, an architectural historian, starts his narrative from the 1960s onwards by introducing foreign architects, and urbanists, who have impacted current urban, and architectural, forms in Abu Dhabi. The result is a showcase of urban interventions set chronologically from 1961 to 2015.

3Texier identifies two distinct phases in Abu Dhabian urbanism: the Sheikh Zayed phase, founding father of the Emirates and of its Planning Department in 1968. The current phase initiated by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, founder of Abu Dhabi’s Council of Planning in 2005. The Council is credited for “Abu Dhabi 2030.” Both Sheikhs employed French, British, American, Japanese, Danish, Eastern European and Egyptian planners and urbanists, in their modernizing bids. Texier extends his investigation to the role of European contractors and designers. He identifies specific forms of urbanism associated to large scale projects, public-works and infrastructure, and constructs a narrative of the city’s metamorphosis following the petro-dollar boom of 1974. He stresses certain phenomena such as vertical versus horizontal urbanisms, Orientalism, and the commissioning of starchitects (especially French ones) for large utility projects, and for the design and construction of public spaces, etc.

4Texier overviews the palimpsest of Abu Dhabian master plans, starting with Abdel Latif Makhlouf’s (1962), the man behind Abu Dhabi’s first Master Plan, and head of its earliest Town planning Department, then going through Katshuhiko Takahashi’s (1967-68), etc. He surveys large land reclamation projects such as Al Reem island, Saadiyat, Yas Island (the city’s contemporary venue for events and exhibitions), overflies works of Art in Public Spaces; and the city’s Beaches (e.g. Al Raha Beach). He juxtaposes his western preconceptions (collage-urbanism, invisible city, petro-urbanism, automobile-city, western Canadian coast urbanism, etc) to what he identifies as Khaliji post petro-urbanism and eco-urbanism.

5Jean-François Doulet, on the other hand, focused his essay on Masdar City as a case in point for post petrol Abu Dhabian, futuristic, urbanism. He is a French urbanist and that might explain his interest in environmental urbanism as a potent trade mark in this region. He wrote Retour à Masdar City: un urbanisme au prisme de l’émergence, as an attempt to bring what Texier started, to the present day. Situated at the heart of Abu Dhabi, Masdar City is currently still in construction following the delays caused by the turbulent world financial crisis of 2008. It is undoubtedly the pilot project for eco-cities in the Gulf, and Arab Region in general, and an attempt to bring urbanism there to the twenty-first century.

6Doulet premise is that Masdar City is not only a pioneering eco-urbanism project, designed by Foster & Co., but is a project where the political and the economical mingle to play a major role. Though Masdar borrows state-of-the-art western concepts, forms and materials, Doulet thinks its main failure lies in its incapacity to espouse the right politico-economic balance. Large urban projects like Masdar, and the structural effects of territorial marketing are a myth meant to show the supremacy of economy over urbanism in this part of the world. The birth of “big Abu Dhabi,” with Masdar as its hub for an international ecosystem of energetic innovations, were designed to make this city the local counterweight to Dubai.

7While both Texier and Doulet use different approaches, their essays complement one another. In addition, both authors focus on western interventions, and use western sources. Though reference to Abdel Latif Makhlouf’s work at the General Planning Department is missing from Texier’s essay, it seems that Doulet also fails to mention the impact of local architects in Abu Dhabi’s Council of Planning.

8All in all, the book is a good survey for both the beginner and the specialist. The researcher, and the practitioner, will also find information on the current urban history of Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, it lacks a general introduction, or a table of contents, so that one can visualize the full narrative presented. The book reads easily, and paints a multifaceted picture of the networks, agencies, corporations, contractors that guided Abu Dhabi’s urban vision. It is analytical, and it makes good use of a large pool of primary and secondary sources, albeit with very limited Arabic sources.

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Référence électronique

Adham Fahmy, « Simon Texier and Jean-François Doulet, Abou Dhabi: Stade ultime du modernisme »ABE Journal [En ligne], 11 | 2017, mis en ligne le 05 octobre 2017, consulté le 05 octobre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Adham Fahmy

Assistant Professor, Amman, Jordan

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