Dubai Builds a Hood Ornament for the Middle East

The Museum of the Future may be an educational institution, but it is – first and foremost – an awesome bit of luxury branding.

It’s good to be the Sheik. Specifically, it’s good to be Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Sheik of Dubai, who is to architects what J.R. Smith is to strippers. This week, the Sheik announced his intention to make it rain on an unnamed group of 3D-printing specialists tasked with building the Museum of the Future, an “integrated environment empowering creative minds” that looks like a donut in a wind tunnel or a cyborg’s infinite scarf. The building, which will cost some $136 million to construct and sheath in metal inscribed with Arabic calligraphy, will hold many wonders no doubt, but even a cursory glance of the design shows it for what it truly is: a hood ornament.

That is meant as neither insult nor architectural criticism. It’s just a fact – a fact that, when you step back from it, makes rather perfect sense.

Dubai is one of this century’s ascendant luxury brands. To hear the word is to consider endless malls, vanity island, luxury cars, sky scraping hotels, and pleasure domes rolling into the sandy distance. And if there is anything we’ve learned from Mercedes, Bentley, and Jaguar it’s that there’s nothing like a metallic flourish up front to make a statement that stays with people. If the museum is a museum, it’s also an icon and what that icon stands for isn’t just money – though it is money – but the perpetual prosperity of the petrol state. Essentially, Dubai is communicating that everything goes up doesn’t have to come back down, not in the Emirates anyway. And that’s pretty great.

It’s enough to make the Statue of Liberty green with envy.