In the 1960s, oil and natural gas were discovered beneath the Arabian Peninsula. The discovery made the region’s states and kingdoms very wealthy. In 1971 seven of those small, independent states banded together to form the UAE. The UAE is one of the richest countries in the world. Dubai is one of the states. It is also the name of that state’s largest city. But Dubai is not completely dependent on oil and gas. It has a long tradition as a center of international trade. In the 1900s and early 2000s, that trade brought many foreign visitors and workers to Dubai. International trade and contact with foreign peoples has shaped Dubai’s culture. Its leaders encourage economic growth in areas such as real estate and tourism. It sees itself as a center for upscale tourism. This kind of tourism features expensive shopping centers, entertainment events, and luxurious beach resorts.
In the early 1990s, Dubai’s leader, Sheikh Muhammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, wanted Dubai to have a building of outstanding architectural design. The sheikh hired the British architectural firm W. S. Atkins. Atkins architect Tom Wright understood what the sheikh was looking for. The project should be symbolic of Dubai and it is Burj al Arab, the way the Eiffel Tower is a symbol of Paris, France, or the Opera House is a symbol of Sydney, Australia. Wright was sitting at a beach café in Dubai in 1993. He sketched out a tall, sail-