“The Arab emirate of Dubai will build a replica of Lyons,” we read, “under a $685M deal signed with the French city last week.” This brings up the interesting question of whether an entire city can franchise itself.

[Image: Place de la Trinité, Lyon, photographed by Emiliano Calero Cortés].

The resulting metropolis will be called Lyons-Dubai City, and it “will cover an area of about 700 acres, roughly the size of the Latin Quarter of Paris, and will contain the university, a hotel school, a film library, subsidiaries of Lyon museums and a football training center run by Olympique Lyonnais.”

It will only be complete, however, if the existing population of Lyons (aka Lyon) is cloned, raised in the exact same way as the source population, reading the same books, dating the same people, working in the same offices, etc. – so that they can wander round, eating tomato salads in sidewalk cafes, stunning future tourists from China. It’ll be a cross-cultural Tom McCarthy novel – precise and choreographed reenactments on the scale of two cities – or perhaps some surreal, heavily Gallicized remake of Westworld: instead of being killed, however, you simply get over-fromage‘d frites.

This reminds me of Ignacio Padilla’s ultra-short story “The Antipodes and the Century,” discussed on BLDGBLOG nearly a year and a half ago. In that story we read how “a great Scottish engineer, left to die in the middle of the desert, is rescued by a tribe of nomads,” and, upon being nurtured back to health, he “inspires” his saviors “to build an exact replica of the city of Edinburgh in the dunes.”

This “shimmering haze of towers” is soon buried by a sandstorm.

Indiana Jones pt. 5.

(Thanks, Katie!)

20 thoughts on “Lyons-Dubai”

  1. So many questions …
    What about storefronts with trademarked logos?
    How do they know what the interiors of the private buildings look like?
    Won’t the sewers fail because of the different topography?
    Will they keep the traboules that the Lyonnais used to escape the Gestapo?
    Will they replicate all the churches, and if so, will they only celebrate Christian services?
    Will they keep the graveyards?
    The mind boggles.

  2. well, did you ever think that maybe the UAE knows of some secret plan that involves all of France being destroyed so they want to pre-empt the rest of the world’s chances to make profit off post-france France-themed tourist attractions?


  3. thank god for UAE. seriously.

    Who else has the imagination and money to pull off obviously ridiculous development schemes like this? it’s kitsch on the largest scale, but somehow that makes it amazing. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next…

  4. Geoff, I read elsewhere that Lyons has a partnership with Dubai.

    So whereas, say, my hometown of Spokane has a Japanese garden to honor its partnership with Nishinomiya, Dubai gets ALL OF LYONS.

    Seems like just the right kind of ridiculous overkill, I suppose, considering the context.

  5. The animated movie, Kiki’s Delivery Service, is set in what seems to be Europe, but it’s sort of a Japanese version of early 20th century Europe. The people, though they look more European than Asian, are culturally Japanese.

  6. To engage with your – perhaps rhetorical – question a little, Geoff, are not the problems with Milton Keynes its newness, and its planned-ness? In essence, what is going on in Dubai seems to be a larger-scale version of the Vegas project of recent years… but that project is, as mb says, entirely driven by a love for/appreciation of urban kitsch, and to be kitschy, things seem to have to be old.

    Vegas is ready to recreate NYC of the early 20th century, but the UAE doesn’t have so much money to burn that they’re ready to emulate Britain’s relatively new “forest city.” It would seem Milton Keynes is so newly developed that it is too early for anyone to be nostalgic yet for the sense of historicity it might one day convey.

    This all could lead to an interesting opportunity for a case study of such things… When do cities mature (like a well aged wine?) in a nostalgia/identity sense? When the UAE duplicates them, they’re ready? And what does all of this say about cultural memory in the age of globalization… this is the kind of late-night riddle that makes BLDGBLOG so great.

  7. Maybe because Milton Keynes is a horrible soulless place. The only thing it succeeds at is the fetishization of roundabouts.

  8. the illustrator David Macaulay semi-predicted this in his 1980 book Unbuilding — an oil magnate from the middle east buys the empire state building, and has it meticulously dismantled piece by piece to be shipped across the atlantic ocean…

  9. I can’t wait until Dubai builds a replica of what Dubai looked like just a few years ago. Visitors to Dubai in 2010 will be able to experience the charmingly antiquated streetscapes of Dubai in 2000.

  10. architecturally, this is the most backwards thing you could possibly do. replicate cities? what the hell for? is this politics? is this function? its baffling that an architect would want to participate in such a thing.

  11. Recalls Snow Crash and The Diamond Age; cities, ‘claves are indeed franchisable — it drives the new concepts of nationhood and ethnicity.

  12. OOOOO, you should read “Sand, Fear and Money in Dubai”, a new essay by Mike Davis, in his book “Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism”. It’s actually WAY scarier than you think…

    “Speer meets Disney on the shores of Araby”


  13. Perhaps the planning lords of Dubai have finally cottoned on to the fact their city is a complete fake fakery, and their only hope is to stay on the same track for the future.

    Indeed, replication on this level is nothing all that new. All one has to do is look a few centuries back at the way most Eastern American and Canadian cities were designed, as though to replicate the very essence of somewhere back across the ocean. The difference is the people who have made this decision. They are not escaping or settling. Perhaps, though, in a world where there is no more possibility of invading and claiming control of new land and territories (or French cities), those with the money and power, simply build their own ‘new land’- as though to symbolize the wars that could have, but never happened. ?

    Wonderful talk at the Bartlett last night, such a pleasure to hear you in person.

    As always, a big fan. collyn

  14. @secretdoor: So _that’s_ where I got the idea, as an impressionable schoolchild, that the Empire State Building had been dismantled and removed. I’ve often wondered, did I find a book on its construction and read it backwards?

    No, I must have stumbled upon /Unbuilding/. Oh the perils of the public library! 😉


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