GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Mirages in the Desert : The Fallacy of a Universal Urbanism
Paper Proposal Text :
Koolhaas (1999) characterised modernist development as a 'universal aspiration' no longer the exclusive domain of the west. While he was talking about Asia at the time it has also come to represent the view held by the general populace. The GCC nations have come to belive in the universal aspiration of urbanism.

Like the cliched mirage in the desert the aspiration of achieving the prototypical Manhattan CBD and Middle-America Suburban bliss has become an unattainable vision that is nonetheless called upon.

In the Gulf, that aspiration to 'universal' prototypes of the city has combined with a land ownership system where influential families own or are gifted vast tracts of land to develop. This land distribution system is part of a long history of sharing wealth but has also led to unintended consequences. Large land holders all rushing to create their own prototypical metropolis to cash in on the gold rush.

A series of multi-nucleate cities have consequently emerged in the last 15 years with little or no connection to each other. Cities like Dubai and Doha typify this relationship. The city is filled with sattelite-like developments like 'Internet City', 'Knowledge City', 'Univeristy City', 'Media City', 'City of Arabia' and countless other iterations

What this model lacks however is the vision of cities as living landscapes and urban metabolisms that are integrally interwoven. Infrastructure of cities has therefore been inefficiently deployed and consumption vastly increased through poor planning. This has had the consequence of nations with the consistently worst environmental footprints in the world.

But the image of the prototypical city has become all pervasive. Alluring imagery trumps the grittyness of the real working city. Green infrastructure doesnt quite sell like singapore's 'Super Trees' and 'Coolhouses'. Spectacle continues to trump the creation of working cities even when sustainable design is proven to save millions of dirhams or riyals.

Developments like Masdar City and Xeritown have attempted to leapfrog those universal models but are yet to succeed.

The future of Gulf Cities is therefore at a turning point where (hopefully) there will be a greater concern for how things work rather than how they look.

The paper will explore these concepts with illustrated examples.

Modernity and master planning on sand dunes

Sand and fantasy: artificial coastlines and expanded oases

Reconnaissance planning

Westernization vs. modernization: the dilemma of emerging Gulf cities