In the first decade of the 21st century, the Gulf region, particularly Dubai, became an architectural playground, with project approvals for insanely expensive and fanciful projects seeming to come almost weekly.
When the world financial crisis hit, however, plans for megaprojects, such as the $68 million Dubailand park and the $1.3 billion Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, were temporarily shelved.
Now, project design and financing in the Middle East have picked up – these projects are back on the go.
As Qatar prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and Middle Eastern economies rebound, future projects in Qatar alone are valued at $230 billion, according to U.S.-based Deloitte Research.
“Things are definitely picking up, more interesting buildings are coming out, both from the government and private developers,” says Simon Fraser, managing director of Hopkins Architects Dubai.
No one knows exactly what mammoth projects will be on design screens in coming years, but they’ll have to be pretty spectacular to match the best Middle East construction projects from recent years.
Here what you can see as you travel across the Middle East:
1. Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
Resembling cubes stacked on top of one another, the Museum of Islamic Art, which houses one of the largest collections of Islamic art in the world, is itself a masterpiece.
Architect I.M. Pei, 91 at the time, came out of retirement and traveled across the Middle East for six months to draw inspiration for designing this simple, futuristic building.
The result is a nearly 46,450-square-meter structure on its own little island in Doha, Qatar. Construction began in 2005 and ended in 2008. Total cost, including museum, peninsula and surrounding park: $47.7 million.
2. Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
In the middle of the U.A.E. desert lies a gargantuan, bright red, triangular structure that happens to be home to the second largest indoor theme park in the world.
The sprawling Ferrari World is about magnitude and flash – witness the world’s largest Ferrari logo.
Equal in size to seven football fields, the massive, red UFO-like structure contains 21 rides. Construction began in November 2008, was completed in two years, and cost $40 billion. That’s double what it cost to build the entire Downtown Dubai complex, including Burj Khalifa.
3. Cayan Tower, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The 80-story Cayan Tower is like an urban twister frozen in time.
Of the many ambitious plans that cropped up in the pre-crisis heyday of Dubai (underwater hotels, Fendi-branded buildings), this is one that actually made it to completion, albeit after delays.
The highest spiraling tower in the world (330 meters high) has no pillars anywhere in the building, lending it an almost impossible sense of light and space. Construction began in 2006 and finished in 2013, at a cost of $272 million.
4. Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
From a distance, the Burj Khalifa appears to tear a hole in the sky.
Inspired by Tower Palace Three, a residential building in Seoul, the 163-story Burj Khalifa is a tourist attraction in its own right, as well as a popular destination for (mostly unauthorized) BASE jumpers. It’s also got one of the highest bars in the world – At.mosphere Bar and Lounge on the 122nd floor.
At 830 meters high, the $1.5 billion Burj Khalifa project is at the center of a $20 billion mixed-use complex called Downtown Dubai. The complex includes Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in the world, and residential units.
Construction began in January 2004 and the building was officially opened in 2010, after delays created in part by the financial crisis.
5. Abraj Al Bait Towers, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
The complex known as the Abraj Al Bait Towers (aka Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower) stands guard in front of the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam’s holiest location.
The main tower is larger than London’s Elizabeth Tower (home of Big Ben) and has an observation deck beneath the clock, as well as a prayer room that can hold up to 10,000 people.
The 18th-century Ottoman Ajyad Fortress was torn down to build the complex, a move that initially led to public outcry.
Funded by the Saudi Ministry of Religious Endowments, the $15 billion project has become a part of Mecca’s fabric, complete with the inscription “God is the greatest” engraved above the clock. Construction on the 600-meter-high, 120-floor clock tower complex began in 2004 and was finished in 2012.
6. The Chedi Muscat, Muscat, Oman
Compared with all the hotel skyscrapers competing for “wows” in the Middle East, the Chedi Muscat scores points for blending in with the local surroundings.
Not just another gleaming spire, the seaside hotel is made up of several buildings spread across expansive gardens. The center of the hotel is a 12-meter-high tented lobby, which gives the impression of a giant Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert.
The reception area resembles an Omani fort. Interior designs are minimalist and modern.
The 160-room hotel cost $25 million to build and occupies an area of more than 8,360 square meters. Construction began in 2003 with a redesign in 2007 and final renovation in 2010.
7. Bank Muscat, Muscat, Oman
Bank Muscat, Oman’s largest bank, has a stunning headquarters, a fusion of modern and Islamic architectural influences. It was designed by award-winning engineering and design consultancy Atkins with both aesthetics and functionality in mind.
Decorative white screens encase the building. A geometric floral pattern allows natural light to come in while keeping the building cool.
The interior design is meant to change the way people work, with colorful seating areas and glass walkways that make it look more like a trendy university campus than a bank.
The 32,500-square-meter office building cost $57.2 million and took two years to construct, beginning in early 2009.
8. World Trade Center, Bahrain
The tiny kingdom of Bahrain is home to one of the region’s most impressive structures. Composed of two towers linked by three sky bridges, the World Trade Center is the world’s first skyscraper with wind turbines incorporated into its design.
The sail-shaped building is able to generate electricity using wind.
Ground was broken in 2004, and it took four years and $150 million to build. With 50 stories, it stands 240 meters high.
9. King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The futuristic King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center was designed by the late, award-winning Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.
Its gray, cellular outer shell emerges as a crystalline form in the middle of the desert. The design is meant to be fluid, making the building open to continual expansion and transformation. Beneath the massive steel cover, sheltered courtyards offer protection from the heat.
The estimated cost of the project is $11.5 billion and began construction in 2009. The structure covers more than 65,000 square meters and was developed by Aramco, the largest energy company in the world.
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2013. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.