Could the Dubai Clock become the city's latest landmark?
Time is our most precious commodity because we can’t get hold of more of it, no matter how much money we have. The passing of time is a relentless reminder of mortality; our grasp of this, part of what it means to be human. We are compelled, therefore, to monitor time obsessively, not only because it dictates our schedule, but also because we are desperate to know how much of it we have left – in that hour, that day, that month or that year. And so we build intricate and elaborate monuments, in the form of watches and clocks, as a way of acknowledging its significance.
Dubai architect and clockmaker Amjad Al-Hajj understands this better than most. He describes himself as “time-obsessed” and has spent the past eight years making bespoke clocks for The Horologist, the company he founded in 2009. Al-Hajj uses unflashy materials such as concrete and stainless steel in his minimalist – almost brutalist – designs, which he admits are “not necessarily reader-friendly”.
But now, Al-Hajj is attempting something altogether more ambitious. A prototype for his latest design, the “Dubai Clock”, which is three metres high, has a 140cm x 140cm base and is made of glass and stainless steel, will be displayed at The Hotel Show in Dubai next week. He hopes that a buyer at the show will be so taken with the “Dubai Clock” that they will commission one that is much, much bigger than the prototype – anywhere up to 100 metres high, in fact. “The sky’s the limit, really,” he says. “The higher the better. We want this clock to become a landmark for Dubai.”
Covered in thousands of hand-placed stainless-steel numbers, the “Dubai Clock” is conical in shape, twisting and tapering upwards from its base. “It is inspired by the sand dunes of Dubai,” Al-Hajj says. “It is tornado-like and stirs up the emotions of the viewer.”
Al-Hajj also believes that the “Dubai Clock” could become an eye-catching part of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid’s vision of turning Dubai into a living museum. “Having one of our clocks showcased in Dubai would be a big honour. I see big, large-scale buildings and museums and I believe our clock would fit perfectly,” he says. “We treat our clocks as pieces of art, as sculpture.”
This is certainly reflected in the price tag. The prototype on display at The Hotel Show is being sold for Dh300,000, but Al-Hajj estimates that a different version of the “Dubai Clock” could cost up to Dh4 million if a client is after something spectacularly tall. It could also take a year to install it. Not that Al-Hajj is getting ahead of himself. “Our first mini-goal is to sell the prototype to a hotel inside the UAE,” he says.
Al-Hajj was born in Amman, Jordan, in 1977. His father is a biologist and his mother a physicist, but Al-Hajj was brought up in a creative environment, in which he and his brother (now a doctor) were encouraged to express themselves. “I was always painting the walls at my parents’ house when I was a child,” he says. “We had a big basement and they would give me big brushes and huge buckets of paint. I was raised to splash stuff around and make things by hand.”
After graduating from the University of Jordan in 2000 with a degree in architecture, Al-Hajj worked at an architecture firm in Doha, before starting his own model-making business in Dubai. This was followed by a brief stint in furniture design. But then in 2009, he founded The Horologist. It was the obvious next step for Al-Hajj, who had been fascinated by the design and creation of these time-keeping contraptions for years. “I’ve always been interested in watches, anything that is accurate and displays fine craftsmanship,” he says. “Clocks embody my vision of how I like to design things.”
He continues: “The first clock I made was for my own house and it was integrated into the wall, it kind of grew out of the wall. And then I developed a habit for hanging a new clock in my house every year. They would always draw attention from guests.
“From there, things started to grow gradually and I thought, ‘Why not take it to the next level and have my own brand?’” Al-Hajj now describes himself as an “architect-horologist” and says that “designing clocks is the perfect mix between product design, art and culture”.
Al-Hajj has form when it comes to making large-scale clocks. One of his creations stands 12 metres tall. I do wonder, though, whether the “Dubai Clock” is just too ambitious. It’s not that I doubt Al-Hajj’s ability to pull it off, more that when he does, it will leave him with nowhere else to go.
Not a bit of it, though. “My most exciting project is always my next project,” he tells me. “We hope that if the ‘Dubai Clock’ is a success, we will have clocks in every capital of the world. Why not?”
Or as the American humourist Sam Levenson once said: “Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.”
The Hotel Show Dubai is at Dubai World Trade Centre from September 16-18. For more details, visit: www.thehotelshow.com