School of Design

Postgraduate research student profiles


Julian Bolleter

Phone: (+61 8) 6488 1554


Start date

Jan 2009

Submission date

Mar 2010

Julian Bolleter

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Dubai landscape architecture and the potential of landscape urbanism


Thesis summary - The thesis explores the role of landscape architecture in the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Dubai in terms of both its bio-physical and cultural landscape can be seen to be foreign, if not hostile to the orthodox practice of landscape architecture. While the conditions of globalization, neo-liberalism, and socio economic stratification can be seen to exist in the traditional European and North American centers of orthodox landscape architecture in Dubai they are ‘writ large.’ In a cultural sense, landscape architecture in the Dubai context finds itself adrift from the largely democratic, socially inclusive, secular contexts in which it normally operates. Equally Dubai’s hyper arid, frequently saline and often brutally hot environmental conditions can be seen to be hostile to orthodox landscape architecture’s reflexive creation of a simulation of a green ‘nature,’ which becomes anything but ‘natural’ within the Dubai biophysical context.

Within this hostile context landscape architecture in Dubai is generally regarded as a benign force but a nonetheless important component of constructing Dubai’s global image and legitimizing its socio-political hierarchy. Landscape, in broad terms, is analysed through the lens of Para-Scape: a landscape which is derived from Koranic depictions of paradise. Through both its pastoral aesthetic and its religious underpinnings this verdant green landscape functions in a symbolic sense as redemptive; a counter point to either the brutality of Dubai’s desert context, the ‘corruption’ of the city or the perceived threat of forces of globalization within a regional culture.

A survey of a range of landscape architectural projects leads to the identification of dominant landscape architectural types which underlie and illuminate the ways in which culture and nature are perceived in Dubai. Primarily, landscape architecture in Dubai is enlisted to serve two grand narratives- one; the paradisiacal image of greening the desert (Para-Scape) and two; making the city more attractive to global capital. A number of emerging typologies resist these dominant narratives in favour of responding to the indigenous, desert landscape.

The thesis uncovers and questions the way landscape is employed within the city to serve these larger narratives. By comparing the work being carried out in Dubai to the tenets of the various charters of The International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) it becomes apparent that what is happening is that Dubai presents a discrepancy between theory and practice. As the hand maiden of global capital with seemingly scant regard for pressing ecological and social issues, landscape architecture in Dubai is arguably in a state of crisis. The thesis explores this crisis in physical and theoretical terms not so as to pass definitive judgement on landscape architecture in Dubai but to better understand the complexity of what can otherwise appear to be a superficial situation.

The thesis introduces emerging landscape urbanism theory and discusses it in reference to its potential in the Dubai context. In particular, landscape urbanism will be discussed in respect to it’s model of city as constituting landscape, its avocation for the collapsing of the binary oppositions of landscape and urbanism, and nature and culture, and its proposed methodology’s of Datascaping and catalytic planning. The potential of landscape urbanism in Dubai is discussed in theoretical terms as well as charted through the design of hypothetical public open space systems for Dubai. These propositions will form alternatives to the public open space systems of the ‘Structure Plan for the Dubai Urban Area’ which is being produced by ‘Urbis’ concurrently with the preparation of the thesis.

Synthesizing the findings of the design exercises with the conditions of crisis experienced by landscape architecture in Dubai, the thesis will speculate on the potential of landscape urbanism to reconnect Dubai landscape architecture with the ennobling socio-ecological ethos of orthodox landscape architecture as articulated by IFLA.

Why my research is important

This research is important in that it applies a critical focus to the current practice of landscape architecture in Dubai, a discipline which has, to date, recieved very little attention from the academy. Dubai is expected to experience explosive population growth in the coming decades, potentially exacerbating Dubai's current ecological and social problems. This thesis is important in that it explores, through theory and praxis, how these issues could be engaged through landscape urbanism.


  • Australian Post Graduate Award