Dubai's Postmodern Architecture: Constructing the Future with 3dr Models
By Global Art Daily’s Editorial Board
Published on March 28, 2022
There are few instances in human history where a collective vision has materialized in such a robust and dynamic way as in Dubai. The city has become over the course of this quarter-century a byword for futurism, but also a place where visions of tomorrow can be experienced today. With the recent opening of the Museum of the Future in Dubai’s iconic financial center (DIFC), a brainchild of the Dubai Future Foundation and architect Shaun Killa, of Killa Design, the museum opened on February 22, 2022 with a permanent exhibition “human technology and creative thinking.” Located next to Emirates Towers, a landmark of Dubai’s skyscrapers horizon and historic tower completed in 1999, the Museum of Future stands as a visual representation of a larger phenomenon: the focus on constructing Dubai as an aggregation-city, one where masterpiece architectural prowesses meets masterplans, with an eternal push towards a better future.
“The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it.”
- HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
To understand Dubai’s global impact on 21st-century architecture, it is important to note the regional context from which this city has emerged. Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates at large, have played a crucial role in injecting economic drive and a sense of futurism in the whole Middle East since the 1980s, but especially since the 2000s. Many leading architects and urban developers from the Levant, Egypt, and the Gulf, have flocked to the UAE to realize their utmost dream: constructing a city that would showcase Arab identity with truly international visibility. As a microcosm of futuristic architecture, Dubai emerged as a hub for the best-and-tallest towers. The Burj Khalifa, Burj Al-Arab, and Palm Jumeirah might resonate globally as images of Dubai, but their visual impact can be said to represent much of the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East at-large in the minds of many tourists worldwide. This feeling of hope, drive, and endless possibilities is best exemplified by the quote of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, prominently featured at the entrance of the Museum of the Future: “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it.” This same quote is indeed sculpted in Arabic calligraphy on the facade of the Museum of the Future, a majestic vision that can be best appreciated at night. This building is indeed another example of anchoring Dubai’s futuristic vision in the tradition of the Arabic language – a monument to celebrate the successes of this region for the world to see.
We sat down with Founder and CEO of 3dr Models, Dani Antoun Bterrani. Mr. Bterrani is at the head of the largest model-making company in the world since 3dr Models’ merger with China-based company RJ Models. With a studio and offices located in Al Quoz, Mr. Bterrani oversees the construction of models that are used at all stages of Dubai’s architectural processes: from initial ideas to client pitches, to public reveals, and sales centers exhibitions. With a client base that spans the biggest names of Dubai’s real-estate developers and a team of 650 model-making technicians worldwide, Mr. Bterrani has seen the city develop under a microscope since 1989, the year he founded 3dr Models. We had the opportunity to ask him about his vision of Dubai’s architecture, the relationship between model-making and architecture, and the favorite model project he has ever worked on.
Dubai is truly a heaven for architects.
- Dani Antoun Bterrani, CEO of 3dr Models
Global Art Daily: As CEO of 3dr Models, what does it mean to be surrounded by the images of the future? What does it do? How do models help us project ourselves into a space that doesn’t exist yet?
Dani Antoun Bterrani: One of the best architects in the world, Norman Foster, spoke about model-makers. “You have to start your vision as an architect at the model shop,” he said in one of his talks. Only when you build a model can you have an entire, 360-vision of the building’s superstructure and its relationship to its immediate environment.
As a model-maker, the beauty of our job is that we see what is in the pipeline for tomorrow. We know about major projects before they are built. I cannot disclose a lot, but I can say that what you have seen so far of Dubai is only 10% of what this city has in mind.
I cannot disclose a lot, but I can say that what you have seen so far of Dubai is only 10% of what this city has in mind.
The slowdown in real-estate development might be felt by some people, but this is part of the city’s long-term vision. The buildings they have planned require better construction technology. Take Zaha Hadid for example, the technology was not there when she first started to draw her signature curved architecture. But now, it is. Our architects and city planners are waiting for the technology to appear, but the ideas are already there.
I personally feel that, compared to other cities of the MENA region, Dubai is 20 years ahead of everyone else. Other cities will need another 20 years to reach what Dubai’s skyline looks like today.
Other cities [in the MENA region] will need another 20 years to reach what Dubai’s skyline looks like today.
GAD: 3dr Models constructed the model for the Museum of the Future. Do you think this building is a true reflection of Dubai’s story?
D.A.B.: What Dubai has offered cannot be compared to any other city in the world. Dubai’s architectural boom emerged because [this city’s leadership] only hired the best of the best. The instruction from the rulers has always been simple: “don’t interfere.” This is what made the city look like what it is today: monumental, majestic, chic, and globally acclaimed. When architects wanted to build iconic buildings, the rulers did not interfere. They let them create. That sense of total trust freed their minds to create truly special structures.
The instruction from the rulers has always been simple: “don’t interfere.”
As a model-maker, I tend to work with the same famous architects who have multiple projects in different parts of the world. They all agree that their projects look much better in Dubai than anywhere else. In other cities, where authorities might interfere, turning them more into draftsmen, hired to execute a vision, rather the true artist-architects that they are. Dubai is an architectural playground. This has never happened in the history of the world. Dubai is truly a heaven for architects.
As a model-maker, I tend to work with the same famous architects who have multiple projects in different parts of the world. They all agree that their projects look much better in Dubai than anywhere else.
GAD: After client presentations, are 3dr Models exhibited or stored in warehouse facilities? Do you find it important to keep the 3D models, and would you ever consider making an exhibition of your models’ collection?
D.A.B.: We have three warehouses, full of storage facilities for models. They are all air-conditioned, numbered, and categorized for each client. The normal lifespan of a model depends on whether they are made for His Highness or for our real estate developers' clients. If a model is rejected at the stage of idealization, its life cycle ends. But if it is approved, it later goes to our clients’ sale centers for usually for 2 years – until they sell the project. After that, they tend to store the models.
Here at our offices, we tend to keep sentimental models. Zaha Hadid’s beautiful projects for example – many memories emerge from looking at a model.
GAD: What is not shown in a model? More specifically, what can a model not account for? How do you manage these limitations and constraints, and how does the model develop over the course of a project’s life from initial idea to launch?
D.A.B.: I always set myself new challenges and new goals to produce the best models. I tend to push limits. I was the first one to light up cars and buildings for example. I got that inspiration from looking out the window of an airplane, cruising down Dubai at night.
To people to say that digital renders are nicer to look at than 3D models, I strive to prove them wrong. Thanks to an incredible focus on detail, including interiors of buildings, decorations, figurines, and cars, models are often more pleasant to look at than digital rendering. For me, lighting is the most important aspect. You can make something look incredibly powerful thanks to dramatic lighting. I see it as a domino effect.
To people to say that digital renders are nicer to look at than 3D models, I strive to prove them wrong.
Normally, people look at an upcoming project from a bird’s eye view perspective. But we wanted to go down to the street level. When the building is at completion, you don’t look at it from the top-down. You experience it from the bottom up. Because we place our models at eye’s level and sometimes enlarge the scale from 1-500 to 1-300, we offer architects another way to experience their plans and drawings.
GAD: What was your favorite project you ever worked on?
D.A.B.: Personally, I would have to say Hatta [exclave of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, high in the Hajar Mountains and south of Dubai]. What is coming up in Hatta is something really, really interesting. We built a huge model for it.
In Dubai, we lacked this concept of the countryside. Usually, where I come from, next to a large city is the countryside, where people might go to on weekends and enjoy a slower pace of life, surrounded by farms, lakes, and greenery. Hatta gave us the countryside. It was envisioned and designed to be a getaway from Dubai’s busy bustle. It truly is a unique project, that will add real value to our lifestyles.
What is coming up in Hatta is something really, really interesting. We built a huge model for it.
I also have to mention the Museum of the Future, which we have worked on from the very start. We started at the pre-concept stage 7 years ago. It is a blessing to see it come to life today.
Dubai Harbor is a very unique project as well. What you see is only a fraction of what the entire project will end up looking like.
Finally, JBR [Jumeirah Beach Residence, a 1.7 kilometres long, 2 square kilometres waterfront community and residential development containing 40 towers]. I remember JBR when it used to be a parking lot. His Highness directly went there and said we could not make a parking lot right on the beach. This had to be developed, it is a prime location. They came to us to make the model.
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3dr Models, established in 1989 by Lebanese national Dani Antoun Bterrani, specializes in all kinds of miniature models (Architectural, Mechanical, Marine and Industrial models) as well as transportation, modification and storage. 3dr Models currently have 18% of the world’s model making market, with over 400 professional model makers and a production of over 40 models per month. The company has set foot on more than 30 countries and over 70 cities in almost every region of the world including Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. Some of the big projects 3dr Models designed are models for Hong Kong & Beijing Airport, the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, One World Trade Center Tower in New York City, and Egypt's plans for a new capital city.
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This article was supported by 3dr Models.