Dubai's Clock Tower History

History of Dubai's Clock Tower has never been clearly defined. There are no public records so much of Dubai's Clock Tower's history is gathered from people who were in Dubai in 1960s and knew the people involved in the Clock Tower's design and construction. Their memories of those times and events form the basis of this unofficial Clock Tower History . This History may change in the future as and when more information becomes available.

Why was the Clock Tower built?

Engineer Edgar Bublik explains the background to how the Clock Tower came to be built.....

Sheikh Ahmed of Qatar was Sheikh Rashid's Son-in-Law. In the early 1960s Sheikh Ahmed gave Sheikh Rashid a large Clock as a Gift. In fact was a very, very large Clock. Sheikh Rashid did not know what to do with such a large Clock! So he sought advice from my predecessor, Mr Bulart, who had just completed designing Zabeel Palace for Sheikh Rashid.

Sheikh Rashid instructed Otto Bulart to design a monument in the newly built roundabout, where the new bridge approach road diverted from the Airport Road. Al Maktoum Bridge opened 1963 so 1964 sounds to be the correct date for the Clock Tower's construction.

The Clock Tower layout was Bulart's design but the structural calculation (reinforced concrete) was by Engineer Ziki Homsi who was working in partnership with Otto Bulart. Mr Bulart did not build the Clock Tower.

In 1957, Qatar installed a Clock Tower set in the middle of a Doha City traffic roundabout.
In 1961 Sheikh Rashid's daughter married the Sheikh Ahmed then Ruler of Qatar.
It is conceivable Sheikh Rashid's new son-in-law, Sheikh Ahmed of Qatar, gave the clock as a gift to Sheikh Rashid with the intention of replicating Doha's existing Clock Tower.

Dubai's original Clock given to Sheikh Rashid by Sheikh Ahmed is believed to have been purchased in Manchester UK which had a tradition of clock and watch making.

Otto Bulart, Architect, Engineer and Advisor

Otto Bulart was an AustrianArchitect and Engineer and in charge of Overseas AST - a joint Austrian and Kuwaiti Company - during the 1960s. Overseas AST carried out major works for Sheikh Rashid including dredging Dubai Creek in 1959 and constructing Al Maktoum Bridge which opened in 1963. Sometime prior to 1963, Otto Bulart left Overseas AST to establish his own Architectural Practice in Dubai.

Otto became one of Sheikh Rashid's Advisors on Civil Construction. His responsibilities included supervising schools being built around the Trucial States under Aid from Kuwait. At the same time Sir William Halcrows and Partners were supervising the building of houses for the teachers at those schools. Otto and Halcrow Consultants worked closely together on these projects. Halcrows often "stood in" for Otto when he was on leave.

Dubai's Clock Tower was constructed towards the end on the construction of Jisr al Maktoum [Al Maktoum Bridge]. Basically the roundabout was the essential wheel in the cogs leading to the Clock Tower. There was then only one surfaced road in Dubai. That road lead from Sheikh Ahmed's Palace [by Dubai Creek] to Sheikh Rashid's Zabeel Palace. This existing road would link to a new Al Maktoum Bridge road which would run over the Bridge. The other end of the Al Maktoum Bridge road would end at the Deira/Sharjah road, which then was only a graded sand road. The Clock Tower was to be be both a roundabout filler and an emblem at this important intersection as, over time, the other roads would be surfaced. The Clock Tower was referred to as "Bulart's Folly in the early days. The clock was not on it then."

Halcrow's Consultant who worked with Otto and knew Ziki Homsi

Ziki Homsi Architect

Ziki Homsi qualified as an Architect and Urban Planner in UK then moved to Dubai in late 1963. Originally a Syrian National, he later become a UAE Citizen. Initially he joined Otto Bulart's Architectural Practice as a Partner. Otto, however, had a lifelong interest in animals, particularly lions having kept his own lion when he lived in Africa. Sheikh Rashid knew of Otto's interest in wild animals and offered Otto the opportunity to build his own Zoo on the outer edge of Dubai (now Jumeirah). Otto accepted and ceased practicing as an Architect. Although Otto Bulart had drawn up the original design for the Clock Tower, he took no part in the Clock Tower's actual construction.

Building Dubai's Clock Tower

Ziki Homsi is credited with building the Clock Tower. Dubai's Clock Tower was a complex structure requiring finance, considerable resources and manpower to build it. At that time there was only one Construction Contractor - Khansaheb - who had the capabilities to build a project of that size. Ziki Homsi acknowledged this shortage of capable Contractors and decided on a "Do It Yourself" approach

We used three primitive techniques to implement the Clock Tower. We hired about 30 workers to do the implementation and mix the (concrete) in a large bowl where concrete mixers were’t available.

Ziki Homsi

That a complex project, as Dubai's Clock Tower was, could be built without major resources is a remarkable achievement. Dubai's Clock Tower was completed by the end of 1965 according to Ziki Homsi. There are no official records on the Clock Tower's construction. There appears to have been no official opening of Dubai's Clock Tower.

Dubai Clock Tower under construction

Dubai's Clock Tower Crumbles

Unwashed beach sand had been used for making the concrete, a common practice in Dubai in those days. Beach sand contains salt which allows water to find its way through the concrete and corrode the internal reinforcing steel. Corrosion then builds up causing the concrete covering to crack. The structure deteriorates over time. This is commonly called "concrete cancer".

By 1972 urgent repairs were necessary. Defective material was removed, corroded steel structure repaired and encased in a new "skin". The Clock was refurbished (said to have been Seiko who did the work) and the Clock Tower restored to its former glory. However problems continued requiring ongoing repairs until the Clock Tower was again refurbished in 1982. However it appears severe structural deterioration necessitated a complete reconstruction of the Clock Tower

Dubai's Clock Tower circa 1968. Image by R Northway

Going under the Clock Tower

Around 1982, Dubai's Clock Tower Roundabout became an obstacle to Dubai's growing road traffic. An underpass providing a direct route Hamriyah was built plus additional roads for traffic heading for Deira and the Airport.

At first the Clock Tower was only referred to only as "The Clock Tower", its name omitting any reference to its location. As Dubai grew it started to be referred to as Dubai Clock Tower and now latterly as Deira Clock Tower. The Clock Tower's location was originally the only entry point for visitors arriving in Dubai. Now visitors arrive from many points of entry

Mr Ziki Homsi, Architect and Builder of Dubai's Clock Tower, died in March 2017

What's there today?

The Clock Tower that exists today was built in 1980s as a reproduction of the original Clock Tower built by Ziki Homji. The Clock that Sheikh Ahmed of Qatar presented to Sheikh Rashid has been replaced by a modern digital clock. It is not known what happened to the original Clock.