GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Always Let the Road Decide: Visual journeys, hidden maps and boundaries along the highways of Dubai, UAE
Paper Proposal Text :
Photographs are instrumental in depicting planning processes, architectural changes and structural events in metropolitan areas. The micro aesthetics of the photographic ‘snapshot’ is often used by city planners and architects to gather geographical data and used to calculate and assess the circulation of pedestrians within architectural spaces. This visual information can disappear or reappear in architectural renderings, macro models and planning proposals. Visual knowledge is
not only generated by the examination of existing visual media and images but is stimulated by intimate social rhythms and observational practices that are instant and often overlooked. The routes in which images are produced and interpreted are vital in understanding their value as social and aesthetic objects. Architectural photographs may generate social memory, geographical awareness and ocular perceptions of architectural objects. Place making becomes a visible event; relational, productive and mobile with a shared focus on everyday activity not a fixed identity or insular
social or geographical locality (Edensor, 2010, Escobar, 2001, Fennell, et al. 2009, Ingold, 2000, Kendall, 2012, Knowles, 2011, Lefebvre, 1991, 2004, Massey, 2005, 141, Pink, 2011,
Raffles, 2002).

The project Always Let the Road Decide explores how the utilitarian qualities of architectural photography are combined with embodied experiences, to suggest human presence and portray traces of recent memory, social activity and spaces of cultural hybridity in Dubai, UAE. Inside the Emirate highways and roads dominate the landscape, and within this infrastructure walking is discouraged. Roads become walls, boundaries and lines to be navigated, alienating pedestrians. This project
has evolved from collaborations with architects and designers in the Gulf region and explores how male migrant construction workers, who have limited social rights of use in the city, independently access and appropriate these busy road networks on foot. Walking and climbing onto the road allows individuals to dictate the pace of their collective movements in a hostile environmental climate / cityscape. Workers create informal activities, meeting points or communal spaces and collective spatial practices in between highways, on underdeveloped plots and cultivated gardens on roadside verges. Repetition and routine enhances spatial authorship. Returning to the same site and re-tracing events gives users the opportunity to determine how the space is being reused or visually modified (Edensor, 2010, Kendall, 2012). Transient acts or events may appear at first to be out of place; what could be perceived as either ephemeral or long-term shifts spatial dynamics over time. These territories need to be reproduced to give them significance (de Certeau 1988, Elsheshtawy
2010, Kärrholm, 2007, Leach, 2002).

The temporality of habitual and unregulated leisure activities, events and spatial practices produced by this social group could encourage new hybrid social spaces to develop in the built environment. These spatial diversions introduce a fresh social dynamic into city spaces, which could have outgrown their original purpose (Lefebvre, 1991), and could influence planning and construction procedures within the Gulf region and the pace of modernisation and rapid architectural growth within Dubai. The photographic work forms part of a research portfolio that considers how public and private leisure spaces are visually represented in this city. My paper will focus on how walking is elemental in allowing the visual re-conception of spatial planning and social possibilities that may manifest in architectural spaces. Journeys made within a cityscape can reveal or hide societal differences, hidden maps and visual boundaries, opening up new lines of critical and spatial enquiry for urban designers in the Gulf region.


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