Dubai Traditional Souqs: A City Inside A City

By July 5, 20202020

We congratulate Christine Espinosa as the fourth winner of RIBA Cityscape Intelligence Sketchbook Competition with her sketch: Dubai Traditional Souqs. We asked Christine to share a little of the background and inspiration for her sketch. Here’s what she shared.

The traditional souqs of Dubai have stood as a source of pride for the Emirates for decades, contributing to the city’s distinctive character. This little corner of Dubai has always been alive with the sounds of traffic, people haggling for herbs, fabrics, kitchenware and jewellery. While they have been silent recently, I was privileged to study and understand the authentic nature of these Dubai’s traditional souqs before the Covid-19 outbreak spending many hours walking around this fascinating area observing the day to day hustle and bustle.

What I love about these souqs are their energy, variety, colours and smell. It is a place which sends out an open invitation to all to travel through its winding sikkas. A place where imperfection and irregularity are embraced, a place rich in architectural heritage that allows us to understand how it has developed over years of trading evidenced by the rustic aged walls and the unassuming thatched roofs and floorings, all of which show the authentic past this place has quietly witnessed.

These souqs, with their narrow sikkas and small shops are facing challenges though. The current COVID-19 crisis coupled with a shift towards modern shopping malls and the emerging digital world is fundamentally changing the way we shop. However, I believe that the Middle East still has a culture that relies on personal experience, and while technology will not replace the traditional souq concept, it can still be used to enhance it.

Yes, it will take time until the regular buzz and chaotic environment that we have all missed returns, and I for one will be waiting to witness the rebirth of the traditional Dubai souqs. For now, though, I can celebrate the chaotic arrangement of the souqs through my sketches celebrating their history and significance.

I see traditional Dubai souqs as humble doors that help us to understand the depth of the Emirates culture. It is the heart of Dubai trade after all, an authentic fabric of our society that bonds the past, present and future. A heritage which is here to stay.

Christine Espinosa-Erlanda, Senior Associate