Cultural investment: building a city profile

Investing in a city's cultural profile can boost visitor numbers and bring lucrative rewards. Vision investigates

For centuries, people have been attracted to cities like Rome, Florence, London and Paris for their cultural heritage and array of outstanding artistic institutions. Culture occurs and evolves naturally in these places, but elsewhere it often needs to be provoked and encouraged through investment in appropriate infrastructure.

Perhaps the most heralded example of a city instantly transforming its cultural credentials is Bilbao, Spain, which benefited from the completion of Frank Gehry’s undulating stainless steel Guggenheim Museum in 1997. Since then, the museum has attracted over 10 million visitors.

Responsibility for designing new art galleries, museums or opera houses is usually placed in the hands of renowned architects. Much like cathedrals or palaces, these buildings are capable of transforming sleepy provinces into bustling creative hubs and supporting related businesses and attractions.

British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid is currently involved in the development of new cultural centres in Jordan, Azerbaijan, South Korea, Serbia and Abu Dhabi, among others. Her peers, including Rem Koolhaas, Amanda Levete, Kengo Kuma, Herzog & de Meuron, and Frank Gehry have all made the headlines recently with designs for galleries and museums in cities seeking to benefit from the attention that greets the completion of a major building by one of these so-called “starchitects”.

Architecture’s role in the development of new cultural districts is to provide a public-facing spectacle, which must be backed up by entertaining and inspirational events or exhibits. Promoting creativity and establishing other outlets for it, from grassroots to the elite level, is also key to growing a city’s reputation as a dynamic cultural centre.

Cities including Glasgow, Scotland and Lisbon, Portugal have succeeded in translating their tenure as European Capital of Culture into lasting legacies through ongoing cultural investment, while Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi are in the process of constructing new cultural districts packed with statement architecture.

In Dubai, work has begun on the transformation of an area of Downtown Dubai into a cultural quarter that will host a new modern art museum and opera house. The plans were announced last year by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, who said the country is committed to strengthening the infrastructure framework for promoting cultural initiatives, adding that projects such as the Dubai Modern Art Museum and Opera House District “will not only encourage our talented local artists but also facilitate global cultural exchange”.

With the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, as its apex, and the gargantuan Dubai Mall and several five-star hotels offering further attractions, Downtown Dubai is already equipped to cater for the influx of visitors these new cultural amenities could attract.