Reinier de Graaf, O.M.A. presents “City in the Desert, U.A.E”

A few takeaways from this talk ft Reinier de Graf. Video (here)

He first talked about the usual OMA/AMO issues regarding the growth of informal settlements, soft infrastructure and totalitarian/”fake” democratic countries such as U.A.E., China, et al. As well as the rise of spectacular architecture and it’s descent into banality along with a corresponding opening up of the non-spectacular or iconic as then the new spectacle. (All points covered in Al-Manakh)

What I was particularly struck by were two other points however. The first he made when discussing the speed of development in the U.A.E., noting how Dubai had to redo it’s master urban plan more than twice in recent years because by the time they had completed the task the master plan was already outdated because in the interim the spectacle and speed of development had outpaced/changed the existing urban fabric in such a way as to make the master plan out dated and non-reflective of the urban reality. Eventually the master planners ended up just “tracing” an aerial map of the city for the new plan so as to actual represent/include contemporary reality and even this was outdated by time of publication.

It seems in this situation that there was no option but to accept the contemporary city landscape as legitimate. If only because it already existed. Although obviously different in content (skyscrapers vs “slums”) it seems a similar situation to that of informal settlements in developing world where the speed of growth as well as the lack of formal/governmental input or involvement leads to the very application of the term “informal” settlement. In fact they are formal in every “real” sense.

Additionally, when he began to describe the proposed but now “denied” plan for the “City in the Desert” I was first struck by how as usual the OMA approach is  compelling in the way in which site (meaning both geographical, culture, environmental, contextual et al. analysis) leads to programmatic variation ending in a final product that has such a rational/logical characteristic. In discussing the issue of density and the way in which this analysis of density (or the lack thereof) and the desire to introduce such a condition into the context of the Gulf states led to the plan for the city, he reinforced a feeling I have always had. He pointed out that outside of the application of gimmicks such as grey-water systems, photo-voltaics, turbines, green roofs et al., architecture is inherently economical (in an efficiency sense). While there is an aesthetic side to this it is more driven by the fact that if the goal is to actually build economics must be taken into consideration.This tendency towards economy is what led them to pursue issues of density in the first place. Primarily because in the Gulf States the main economic engine is land and therefore unless density becomes the norm land would sooner than later run out.

While the city would not have been groundbreaking I certainly feel that it was more “real” than other’s currently being built, such as Masdar with it’s vision of a city with non-auto based personal people movers (transport pods). It seems less Utopian and more accepting of contemporary reality. Thus it simply tried to bring density and rationality which in itself would be a huge improvement compared to mainline trends in this region of the world. Or at least the reality pre-the plunge of the price of a barrel of oil and the current global finance collapse.


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