40 construction projects that built Dubai

40 construction projects that built Dubai

As The Big 5, the region’s biggest construction event, celebrates its 40th anniversary, we present 40 iconic buildings and landmark developments that have helped transform Dubai into a world-leading destination


  • Building Materials
  • Dubai
  • Construction


Laying the foundations: 1979-1989

Inaugurated in 1979 by British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, the 39-storey Sheikh Rashid Tower is the centrepiece of the Dubai World Trade Centre complex. At 149 metres high, it was, for many years, the region’s tallest building, constructed more than four kilometres from the emirate’s then commercial hub, Dubai Creek, and designed by British architect John Harris. Today, it is one of the country’s most recognisable buildings.

1 Sheikh Rashid Tower at Dubai World Trade Centre


Laying the foundations: 1979-1989

Dubai Aluminium, the first smelter in the UAE, and Jebel Ali Port, now the world’s 11th largest port, also opened in 1979. Commercial production began at Dubai Aluminium in 1980. Since then, the facility has expanded multiple times, and its annual capacity has risen from 135,000 tonnes to more than 1 million. Likewise, Jebel Ali Port helped Dubai position itself as the regional hub for business, and gateway to the Middle East and Africa for Asian and European exporters.​

2 Dubai Aluminium

3 Jebel Ali Port​

Laying the foundations: 1979-1989

The Dubai Municipality headquarters was ahead of its time when it opened in 1979. An example of green building practices, despite its age, it features an inner courtyard with a water pool and warren truss space frames that block 80 per cent of direct solar radiation. Fast forward to 1985 and Jebel Ali Free Zone opened its doors, enabling foreign businesses to operate without the need for a local partner. Emirates Golf Club also broke boundaries when it opened in 1988, offering a world-class facility for pro and amateur golfers, marking the start of golf tourism in the UAE.

4 Dubai Municipality Headquarters

5 Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) 

​6 Emirates Golf Club

Welcoming the world: 1989-1999

Canada’s Arthur Erickson Architects designed Etisalat Tower 1 for the UAE’s first telecoms provider in the mid 1980s. The building, which opened in 1992, features granite cladding, green-tinted mirror glass and a distinctive sphere, measuring 22 metres in diameter. Another iconic landmark, Jumeirah Beach Hotel was designed in the shape of a wave and took three years to build. It marked the birth of Dubai’s first luxury hospitality brand when it opened in 1997. In 1991, The Aviation Club opened in Garhoud, becoming a major social hub for Dubai residents.​

7 Etisalat Tower 1

8 Jumeirah Beach Hotel

9 The Aviation Club


Welcoming the world: 1989-1999

Construction began on National Bank of Dubai Tower in 1993. Five years later, the main contractor, Al Naboodah Laing, finally completed Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott’s design, a 125-metre-high, sail-shaped tower. Also in 1999, Dubai Internet City opened with the aim of turning Dubai into a regional technology hub, while the launch of the Burj Al Arab hotel put Dubai on the map with its striking design – also in the shape of a sail – constructed by local company Al Habtoor Engineering and South Africa’s Murray & Roberts.

10 National Bank of Dubai Tower

11 Dubai Internet City

12 Burj Al Arab

Building Dubai: 1999-2009

At the turn of the millennium, Dubai’s construction sector was riding the wave of success. This would only continue as projects such as Jumeirah Emirates Towers, the twin hotel and office tower, opened on Sheikh Zayed Road, symbolising modern Dubai. Ten kilometres away, Dubai International airport was undergoing continued expansion while the Architectural Heritage Department of Dubai Municipality conserved 56 buildings in Bastakiya, one of the emirate’s oldest and most charming districts.

13 Jumeirah Emirates Towers

14 Dubai International expansions

15 Bastakiya conservation

Building Dubai: 1999-2009

Dubai’s emerging coastline communities also took inspiration from the past with the sprawling Madinat Jumeirah hotel and retail complex paying architectural homage to the city’s trading heritage. A 10-minute drive to the south, the HOK master-planned Dubai Marina community broke ground in 2000 – and attracted thousands of spectators for its flooding – while the 2004 opening of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) was centred on Gensler & Associates’ DIFC Gate, a contemporary interpretation of the Arc de Triomphe.

16 Madinat Jumeirah

17 Dubai Marina

18 Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)

Building Dubai: 1999-2009

As part of Dubai’s economic diversification strategy, 2002 saw the creation of Dubai Healthcare City free zone, now home to more than 100 international wellness brands. The burgeoning retail scene welcomed Majid Al Futtaim’s Mall of the Emirates in 2005 and the region’s first indoor ski slope, swiftly followed by the 4.2-million-square-foot Al Futtaim Carillion-built Dubai Festival City, anchored by IKEA, in 2006.

19 Dubai Healthcare City

20 Mall of the Emirates

21 Dubai Festival City​


Building Dubai: 1999-2009

In 2001, the world-renowned Palm Jumeirah began to take shape, rising from the sea thanks to an ambitious reclamation project and the expertise of the Netherland’s Van Oord. Jumeirah Lakes Towers’ 68 high-rise buildings, connected by a network of lakes and promenades, was developed by Faithful+Gould in 2007, with a further 40 towers across Sheikh Zayed Road at Jumeirah Beach Residence. This was the largest single-phase mixed-use project of its day, also handed over in 2007.

22 Palm Jumeirah

23 Jumeirah Lakes Towers

24 Jumeirah Beach Residence

Building Dubai: 1999-2009

One of the city’s most prestigious addresses, Emaar Properties’ $20 billion flagship Downtown Dubai district emerged as a retail and leisure hotspot in 2008, anchored by The Dubai Mall. In the same year, Atlantis, The Palm, built by Al Naboodah Laing O’Rourke, joined Dubai’s roster of palatial hotels. Wrapping up the decade, 2009 was a banner year for transportation innovation with the launch of the Mitsubishi-led consortium construction of Dubai Metro, the world’s third-longest automated rail network.

25 Downtown Dubai

26 Atlantis

27 Dubai Metro

A world-class city: 2009-2019

A new decade dawned with the launch of Business Bay, a 4.4-million-square-metre mixed-use community bordering Sheikh Zayed Road. Another first came in the unveiling of phase one of Al Maktoum International, the city’s new mega airport, delivered by Al Naboodah Construction and Arabtec Construction-Max Boegl. All eyes were on Dubai at the start of 2010 as the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed 828-metre-tall Burj Khalifa inched its way into the record books as the tallest building in the world.

28 Business Bay
29 Al Maktoum International
30 Burj Khalifa

A world-class city: 2009-2019

In 2013, with government commitment to clean energy becoming a physical reality, phase one of the $14 billion, 500MW Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park opened. In the same year, Dubai inaugurated Jebel Ali M-Station, the largest power and desalination plant in the UAE, and Al Shafar General Contracting completed City Walk by Meraas, a European inspired mixed-use community.

31 Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park

32 City Walk

33 Jebel Ali M-Station

A world-class city: 2009-2019

The emirate’s free zone offering added a new economic opportunity with the 2015 phase one reveal of Woods Bagot’s Dubai Design District (d3), a hub for art, design and fashion. Next-generation technology also took its first steps into the construction environment with the unveiling of the Office of the Future, the world’s first 3D-printed office by Killa Design. And, in 2016, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai summed up the engineering miracle that is Dubai Water Canal, stating, “impossible does not exist in our lexicon.”​

34 Dubai Design District

35 Office of the Future

36 Dubai Water Canal

A world-class city: 2009-2019

Diamond Developers approved the environmental performance of every piece of material used to build The Sustainable City, the Middle East’s first low-carbon community, before handing over units in 2016. A year of superlatives, Dubai Parks and Resorts tipped the theme park balance as the region’s biggest park, with the four-in-one opening of Motiongate, Legoland, Legoland Water Park and Bollywood Parks. And the Janus Rostock-designed Dubai Opera, built to represent a traditional Arabian dhow, was brought to life by Greece’s Consolidated Contractors Company.

37 The Sustainable City

38 Dubai Parks and Resorts

39 Dubai Opera

A world-class city: 2009-2019

A 12,000-square-metre landmark, Etihad Museum was built to commemorate the founding of the UAE. The predominantly subterranean structure was designed by Canada’s Moriyana & Teshima Architects and built by Al Shafar General Contracting. Unveiled in 2017, its unique façade was inspired by the manuscript on which the unification declaration was written, with seven leaning columns representing the pens used to sign it.

40 Etihad Museum