Dubai 46

Reading Kevin Nance's PR-piece about SOM's Adrian Smith and his designs for Trump Tower in Chicago and Burj Dubai in, well, Dubai (both set for completion in 2008), my mind wandered to a film I saw recently: Code 46, directed by Michael Winterbottom. The "sci-fi love story" is set in the not-too-distant future, taking place primarily in Shanghai. The story centers around two characters played by Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. Robbins uses "empathy drugs" to find people that are taking advantage of his clients, while Morton plays a worker that Robbins finds out but falls in love with. It's a time when genetic decoding influences choices more than human will.

I enjoyed watching the movie, though more for the visuals than the story. From the very beginning, it's apparent the film uses existing locations to convey this not-too-distant but also not-too-far-fetched future. For the approach to Shanghai from the airport, Winterbottom uses the highway near Dubai to subtly illustrate the effects of environmental damage.

Missing image - code46-1.jpg
Images found here

In another scene, Robbins finds himself in an interior made famous by Andreas Gursky, a hotel interior that conveys the impression that - through our "choices" in how we create habitation - we're not that far removed from other creatures, like bees, as we think. It fits well into the movie's impersonal treatment of people in this fictive future.

Missing image - code46-2.jpg

This impersonalilty/universality is consistent throughout the film in the decision to have the characters inhabit spaces that are sleek, modern, cold.

Missing image - code46-3.jpg

So much so, that when we see Morton's character exiled for her "sins" the contrast hits you over the head.

Missing image - code46-4.jpg

So what does all this have to do with Nance's piece on Adrian Smith, outside of the fact he's designing a building for Dubai? Well, in some ways Dubai is a present-day version of Winterbottom's future. It's a land of contrasts. Rich and poor. Desert and greenery. Big and small. Real and surreal.

Smith even admits to being inspired by the depiction of the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz for his design of Burj Dubai: "I just remembered the glassy, crystalline structure coming up in the middle of what seemed like nowhere." In the Burj Dubai, via Smith's subliminal inspiration, we now have the embodiment of these contrasts under construction in the desert playground that is Dubai.


  1. Regarding your write up on Dubai, I haven't seen "Code 46" but am intrigued -- so I'll check it out. I wondered if you saw the Wim Wenders film called "Until the End of the World" which also takes place in the not-to-distant future. The sets (from what I remember -- it's been a while now) are grungy (like Blade Runner) but not necessarily futuristic. There's also the classic "A Clockwork Orange" that puts modern work in an eery context as well.

  2. Gikkigen - Haven't seen Until the End of the World, but Wenders is the auteur of one of my favorite films (Paris, Texas) so I'll definitely check it out.


Post a Comment

Comments are moderated for spam.