Cheer Up Dallas: At Least You’re Not Abu Dhabi

That’s the takeaway from this Economist blog post which picks up on Blair Kamin’s takedown of the Arts District in the Chicago Tribune. The Economist goes over the problems with the Arts District that Kamin points out and then posses this zinger: “But surely it is possible to spend even more money to create an even duller arts district.” 

It turns out it is: Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, which will cull together a team of starchitects to create branches of the Guggenheim, the Louvre, and a natural history museum. The Abu Dhabi project is also running into some PR problems: an artist boycott of the Guggenheim over the working conditions of those building the new museums. But like Dallas, the question remains: does a “if you build it, they will come,” philosophy hold water.

But setting aside this public-relations disaster, which could significantly hamper the Guggenheim’s work in filling this museum, the Saadiyat complex poses a larger question: will people come? Is it enough to build these gigantic monuments to modernity (in an otherwise not-so-modern and remote place) and assume that the razzle-dazzle will lure the tourists? Dallas’s experiment illustrates the flaws in developments that consider the needs of architecture at the expense of people. A culture district without the glue of wandering pedestrians (or an atmosphere of working artists; or let’s face it, streets) may struggle to earn its keep.

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