Emaar Properties has teamed up with Giorgio Armani to build and manage thirty Armani hotels and resorts around the world – one of which will be included in Burj Dubai, the the world’s largest skyscaper (above) that is now being built. As one of the world’s largest developers, and a “global provider of premier lifestyles and pioneer of innovative community-living concepts,” Emaar must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the global design economy.
Somewhat less well-publicised than Burj Dubai (and curiously absent from the company’s website) is a US$43 billion Emaar project in Pakistan called Diamond Bar City. Emaar is constructing 4,000 luxury high-rise apartments, residential resorts, hotels, and casinos, on two islands – Bhudal and Bhuddo – off Karachi. The project has been the focus of intense debate since it was given a government go-ahead at the end of 2006. At the time, Government officials described the islands as being ‘deserted’ but the Asian Human Rights Commission says the livelihoods of about 500,000 fishermen – indigenous people who have been living on the islands for centuries – will be directly and severely affected (bottom picture.) Nearly 4,000 fishing boats make a trip every day near the Bundal coast, but their routes are already being disturbed as the deep water channel has narrowed due to Emaar’s land reclamation. The construction of a bridge and deforestation will further constrict channels used by fishing boats. The 10,000 ha under mangrove cover on these islands also represents a unique habitat for juvenile fish and shrimp in the area, and Bundal Island is the breeding ground of Green Turtles and several rare bird species.
When the Pakistan government signed a 99 year lease contract on twin Islands,it did not conduct an Environment Impact Assessment as required by law, before making the contract, and the Chief Minister of Sindh, in deciding to support the mega project, said that “land is not superior than development”. The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in Karachi calls Diamond Bar City a “disaster project.”
So where does this leave the design industry? For example a British design company, The Brand Union does a lot of Emaar’s corporate communications. (The Brand Union is WPP’s global brand agency). “We have a deep understanding of the Emaar brand and, for each project, we delve deep into the details of the project – understanding the masterplan, architecture and examining the profile and psyche of the target audience,” says the company’s chief executive in Dubai, Hermann Behrens.
It will be interesting to see whether Ahmad (not his real name) who has been in the fishing trade for decades, will feature prominently as a member of the “target audience” in brochures for Diamond City. “If Diamond City is built on Bundal island”, Ahmend told a local reporter, “all the rich of Karachi will move in there and the poor will be left behind. We will then not even get drinking water.”