Toyota Building: A tower that saw the rise of Dubai

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15-storey Toyota Building is regarded as one of Dubai's first residential towers.

Before lofty skyscrapers - including the tallest tower and the highest hotel in the world - dotted the stretch of the Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, there were two 15-storey residential buildings constructed in 1974, three years after the foundation of the UAE.

The apartment block, regarded as one of Dubai's first residential towers, still stands in the area that was then known as 'Defence Roundabout'.

The building's proper name is Nasser Rashid Lootah Building, but long-time residents gave it a more easily recognisable nickname: Toyota Building.

Its moniker has nothing to do with the Japanese automotive manufacturer - there's no Toyota showroom in the building - it's just that, atop the building was a billboard with the popular silver and red logo of Toyota.

"Back then, it was hard to tell a friend where you live, so people decided to call it Toyota Building, much like how people called Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road as Bank Street in Bur Dubai. It was easier, because the sign can easily be seen from afar. The flashing neon advertisement became the landmark of Al Wasl area that was then surrounded by nothing but sand and a few low-rise villas," long-time resident and Indian expat Mohammed Danish told Khaleej Times.

The billboard was on the building's roof for almost four decades, until it was removed in May last year after the advertising contract has expired.

But residents still prefer to call it Toyota Building.

"Tell a taxi driver to bring you to Nasser Rashid Lootah Building and he will get lost, but mention 'Toyota Building' and he can bring you (here) without the help of Google maps," Danish said.

Through the years, Toyota Building has survived the massive change on the Sheikh Zayed Road and became a silent witness to the dizzying development of Dubai.

Many high-risers cropped up in the neighbourhood. Across it is the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, and behind it is the newly constructed Coca-Cola Arena, an impressive venue with a 17,000 seating capacity that has been dubbed the largest of its kind.

The roundabout, also known as the First Interchange on the Sheikh Zayed Road, was replaced by a complex junction of roads and bridges that opened in 2010, providing a freeway in both directions from Al Safa Road to Financial Centre Road.

The low-rise villas were also replaced by a modern urban living concept called City Walk, developed by Meraas and has been a destination for shopping, entertainment and wellness options.

Despite the modern buildings that mushroomed in the area, Toyota Building still stands as a landmark and humble abode for many Dubai residents.

"Yes, it is old and almost rundown but I believe it is still structurally sound. It also offers the cheapest rent and the most accessible residence in the area. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is around Dh65,000," said Pakistani expat Kashif Butt, 40, who moved to Toyota Building early last year.

Filipino expat Mike Sandoval, who lives in the building and works at The Dubai Mall, added:

"I prefer to live here (Toyota Building) because it's just a two-minute walk or about 100 metres away from the Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall Metro station."

According to reports, there is no plan to take down Toyota Building anytime soon because it remains popular to this day and units are always occupied.

Residents in the building, however, understand that it will someday give way to a new building, as almost every structure in the area has been demolished in the name of modernisation.

"But it would be a great loss if Toyota Building was demolished. It is old but it is part of Dubai's history and heritage. I hope it will continue to stand for some more years," Sandoval said.

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Angel Tesorero

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