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Over the past 20 years Dubai has witnessed a transition in the architectural style of its buildings. The Dubai Municipality has played a pioneering role in giving importance to the conservation of the architectural heritage of the city and its surrounding areas.
In 1984, the Historical Buildings Section of Dubai Municipality came into being and has been instrumental in preserving the history and culture for posterity. It firmly believes that one must maintain close relations with the nation's heritage, traditions and culture.
"We are out to prove that for the average tourist coming to Dubai there is more to this city than just shopping, we have places to see in Dubai where the city's heritage and culture can be seen in their original form," says the man behind the restoration and conservation efforts of the Dubai Municipality.
He is Rashad Mohammed Bukhash, Head of the Historical Buildings Section at the General Projects Department of the municipality.
Bukhash joined the municipality in 1987. Being an architect by profession, he also had a passion for historical buildings and after joining the municipality he immediately embarked on a project which involved the restoration of three prominent historical buildings of Dubai.
"Preservation of the architectural heritage in the UAE was first undertaken in 1971. Work was undertaken on the more than 200-year-old Al Fahidi Fort, which is the oldest building existing in Dubai.
After some preliminary restoration efforts, the Dubai museum came into being," says Bukhash. "Our first target was to complete the restoration of the fort which was once used as the residence of the late ruler Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum," he adds. Al Ahmadiya School and the historical village of Hatta were then restored with the assistance of specialised consultants and local inhabitants.
"This project was completed in 1998 and became a significant addition to the efforts to revive the cultural heritage and urban history of the Emirates," says Bukhash.
In 1983, Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum's house, the old house of the ruler which was built in 1896, was restored. Today, it has been converted into a museum of historical photographs and documents of Dubai.
A team of dedicated architects, carpenters, masons, welders, ornamental specialists and electricians has been responsible for executing the restoration work in the historical buildings around Dubai.
"Till 2001 we have completed restoration works on 72 buildings in Dubai," says Bukhash. These include forts, watch towers, houses, mosques, market areas in Bur Dubai and Deira. "We plan to finish 120 more buildings by 2008," says a tenacious Bukhash.
Most of the houses and forts which are restored are converted into restaurants, galleries, museums, souks and motels. The main areas which are under renovation are in Bastakiya, Shindagha and the old souk areas of Deira. These areas will also become focal points for tourists and will depict the traditional architecture of the emirate.
Surveys done in the central area of old Dubai, called the historical souks of Bur and Diera, have also been bought under the wing of the historical buildings section and regulations have been put in place.
Construction of new buildings in this area has to conform to traditional architectural styles. A Reference Book for Traditional Architecture has been brought out by us which can be used as a guide for this area," says Bukhash.
Bukhash's target is to register the historical buildings on the International Heritage list to enable Dubai to have a presence on the world map for heritage sites. The work of the Historical Building section has been recognised all over the UAE.
"We are being invited by other emirates to help them identify and restore buildings which are of historical importance," points out Bukhash. The municipality is also planning to establish a non-profit organisation in the emirates which will work towards the restoration of all historical buildings. A tourist guide to the historical buildings of Dubai is in the making and will be released soon by the Dubai Municipality.
Bukhash spent his childhood living in his traditional family house located in the Bastakiya area. His interest in historical buildings was sparked at the age of 12 when he saw a British architect doing a survey of their house for a booklet.
Bukhash went on to study architecture in the U.S. and when he came back joined the municipality. Since 1991 he is completely devoted to the work of restoration of historical buildings in this region. He is also a member of the Society of Engineers and is head of the architects' committee. "It is in my blood, I have a love for historical and traditional buildings," he says.
Bukhash also explained how Dubai's traditional architecture is a result of the mixture of nationalities of people who lived here. "In general, it is influenced by Islamic architecture which developed in the region.
Its main features are simplicity, functionality, durability and suitability for climatic environments and social life.