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“We should never forget that values of the past are first overlooked when a change is necessary, but later they are understood and re-established” Chapter 7, The room , p. 98, Building Entopia. A quote by C.A Doxiadis caught my attention through my search to understand the development pattern that’s happening in my region, and specifically in United Arab Emirates. Growing up in this region, I experienced urban fabrics and landscapes as ephemeral elements that last for a short time and then get erased to accommodate the process of urbanization and moving into modernity.
I experienced a city in metamorphosis where the social and cultural patterns are also in constant change. This urged me to question how to design for fast-paced dynamic cities with unorganized and unpredictable growth? How do we maintain our relationship to nature when the only objective is to expand on the urban land cover?
I started exploring the relationship between the city, its inhabitants, landscape and ecosystems when researching and designing for an oscillating city, Varanasi in India during my last semester at GSAPP in the Water Urbanism Studio.
Through studying the flow of people, fauna, flora and the dynamic waterbody of the Ganga river along with looking at time through religious festivals rather than seasons, opportunities in those elements were unveiled to reimagine public spaces as flexible, adaptable and seasonal infrastructures to accommodate the intensifying flux in the city and to challenge the proposed master plan that portrayed it as a stagnant entity. Allowing the city to expand and accommodate not only people and pilgrims, but also migratory birds, fauna and flora.
In regions where the expansion of urban land cover and change of coastlines is drastic, qualities of urban identity and ecosystems diminish and tend to be considered impediment to the built environment and to new urban developments. The objective of rapid developments in most of the fast-paced growing cities is to create a global image and to be the epitome of urban development, leaving landscape and ecosystems in decline. This calls to redefine mechanisms of urban growth and to investigate ways of to preserve the ecology and to bring new meanings to this rapid development.
My research aims to look at development and growth of cities as a revival process between man and nature expanding along the venues of finding design opportunities between nature and urban growth, leading to green economies rather than commercially driven development that sacrifices the environment and ecosystems. I intend to carry this research process through focusing on the nexus of urbanism, landscape, ecosystems, economy and political boundaries to address new mechanisms of urbanisation.
The proposed new urban model will build on prior urban design strategies that were formed for newly planned cities such as Doxiadis model of “Dynapolis” for Islamabad and Riyadh, which defined a coherent urban theory and a rational scientific methods for urban design. Studying these prior models will help to define a theoretical framework that organizes and establishes a connection between existing natural formations and ecosystems, and newly built environments.
The methods that will lead to this model will focus firstly on understanding the relationship between man and nature starting with adopting the theory of Ekistics found by Doxiadis that emphasizes the ability of the city to expand while maintaining a balance between man, his environment, and technology. The initial research will start with analyzing and mapping historic and natural conditions including changes in coastlines, ecosystems, new development and future planned expansions using GIS. Secondly, analysis of the data will lead to uncover failures and also potential opportunities that can iterate existing design strategies and form new ones. Finally, a holistic plan and urban strategy that integrates landscape urbanism and new technoscience methods will be created in order to project a model of a new dynamic city: A new “Dynapolis” model, in order to re-shape and reiterate the image of modernity while preserving the natural environment.
Working in a developer in UAE helped me understand the politics and the forces that drive the development. I learned that there’s a huge gap and a lack of knowledge, a disconnection with our land and environment, with our past and with our new evolving identity that is struggling to form itself and to come into light. I realized that the common understanding of modernity is to catch up with other cities. There is a need of public awareness and education about the importance of embracing our natural environment and brining balance with the built environment that we are creating in order to bring originality and sustainability to the urbanization process. I explored highlighting our relationship with nature and the desert in a submission for the curation of the 2021 UAE Pavilion in Venice Biennale.
Therefore, I intend to test the proposed urban model that builds on Doxiadis’ concept of “Dynapolis” and the theory of Ekistics on UAE and possibly other cities in the MENA Region to project a new meaningful direction of urban growth; an “objective” one. In UAE, there’s a need to go back to re-establish the relationship with nature, where there’s a lack of understanding of the past, of the natural process and of the existing environment; to reconnect with the natural environment and identify the beneficial transactions between them. First by studying historic plans created by Georges Candilis from 1976 where major planning took place. Then mapping the changes on costlines, degradation of the desert and natural formations along with understanding the characteristics of the existing ecosystems such as the fauna and flora in the desert and the gulf, and Specifically in Abu Dhabi mangroves and Ras AlKhor Wildlife Sanctuary which are home to a great number of species that are being affected by major developments. Which will result in reimagining them as public spaces and a core of the development in the city. I believe this approach will build a social responsibility towards the environment in parallel to the country’s vision in being modern, but to trigger it to move sustainably towards the future.
There is scarcity in the knowledge about urban development and landscape in UAE and my research requires a platform that offers a multidisciplinary approach in research and collecting data to better understand the environment. I find the the Doctor of Design program at Harvard compelling with its outstanding faculty and divisions that will allow me investigate my research questions thoroughly and give me the opportunity to apply it.
Since last year, I have been following up with the projects in the Urban Theory Lab that Professor Neil Brenner have started. I believe working with Professor Neil and hopefully being part of the UTL will allow me to investigate urbanisation processes in the region and then form solid theories about urban restructuring, and therefore trigger a new meaning of development. His book New Urban Spaces: Urban Theory and the Scale Question
Along with professors Charles Waldheim rich knowledge and cutting edge research about ecology and contemporary urbanism, I believe this will give me the challenge to answer my questions and form a visions. By reimagining and giving new definitions to landscapes.
I also believe that the program will empower me and give me the freedom in research, to cross between disciplines and to boldly state my findings about a place where its image is very confined.
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