Prior to the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the settlements in the Trucial States were marked by their deep-rooted connection to local culture, a profound understanding of the challenging climatic conditions, and an extensive reliance on indigenous construction materials and resources. Within this landscape, two predominant urban typologies coexisted: the sedentary and the nomadic. These typologies exhibited distinct characteristics depending on their geographic locations. In both cases, Bedouin tribes developed a myriad of ingenious methods and building techniques. These techniques not only helped them adapt to the harsh climate, but also catered to their tribal social requirements and customs.
The discovery of oil triggered a rapid transition towards modernity, spanning the 1960s and culminating in the birth of a nation, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in 1971. As infrastructure projects were initiated, settlements expanded into towns and eventually transformed into thriving cities. A significant number of these cityscapes began to take shape with the involvement of Arab architects who had received their training in the West and the Far East. These “local” architects came to the Gulf region, attracted by the work opportunity presented by the fast-growing city. They presented an interesting interlink that merged Western views and education with more regional approaches, values and ethos. They enthusiastically embraced modernism and applied its values to the extreme environmental conditions of the newly established nation, while at the same time keeping an element of regionality that stemmed from their understanding to the specifics of the Arab community.
One important building from this era is the Cultural Foundation, a multifaceted complex encompassing the national library, Cultural Centre, and a national theatre in Abu Dhabi. Designed between 1974 and 1981, this much-loved structure was attributed to The ArchitectsCollaborative (TAC), a design studio founded by the renowned Walter Gropius, situated in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The building, however, had long been thought to bethe creation of a TAC employee, Iraqi architect Hisham Ashkouri, celebrated as a“local”. As is often the case with compelling narratives, the true authorship ofthis architectural gem is shrouded in ambiguity and complexity. This paper endeavours to unravel the story behind the Cultural Foundation, raising thought-provoking questionsabout architectural authorship within the context of this dynamic region.
Exactly thirteen years after the Catholic monarchs of Spain conquered the city of al-Mariyyāt, a swirl of otherwordly lights appeared off its shores at the break of dawn. The coastal guards believed it to be a pirate ship nearing the land, but soon realised that the flashes were coming from a radiant silhouette floating amidst cascades of lightning.The silhouette approached the shoreline slowly, skimming the water before coming to rest upon the sand. A premonition struck the guards. Drawn towards the light, they were met by the divine figure of the Virgin Mary. Upon hearing the guards’ testimony, local religious authorities proclaimed the apparition to be the patronsaint of Almería. From that moment, the city’s inhabitants have sought the protection of the Most Holy Virgin of the Sea against plagues, earthquakes, droughts, and other disasters afflicting this area of the Mediterranean.
This presentation travels between the Marian apparition of 1502 and the so-called “plastic miracle”that occurred in 20th-century Almería, when a vast geoengineering experiment followingFranco’s internal colonisation plans transformed Europe’s only desert into its leading exporter of vegetables. Tracing continuities of sacrifice and sensation across the Almerian peninsula, this paper explores how historical cycles of land inscription, colonial extraction, piracy and warfare intrude upon this global agro-industrial enclave in the present day.
Forestry and wildfire research produced by the US Forest Service at the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station over the last century can be distinctly defined by periods of technical evolution with regard to the ability to measure fire’s behaviour. In 1972 Richard Rothermel’s A Mathematical Model for Predicting Fire Spread in WildlandFuels marked the entry point of wildfire research into a third stage of technical evolution: one characterised by digital computers and computer-aided data analysis.Despite its significance, Rothermel’s groundbreaking work also raised institutional questions as to how wildland managers and emergency services could distil and synthesise this complex understanding of forests and fire into formats that could be used to make decisions in the field.
Recognising this disciplinary conflict, Rothermel instructed a colleague, Frank Albini, to develop a visual tool based on his calculations to transfer fire-related research into a useful medium. Publishing this in 1976 as the USDA Forest Service General TechnicalReport INT-30, Albini proposed a series of nomograms – graphical two-dimensional diagrams that could be used in real time to estimate fire spread, flame length, and difficulty of control. Rather than requiring those in the field to deal with abstract concepts and complex calculations, the nomograms allowed them to understand fire as easily as they might read a map. As Rothermel shared, this publication “let the genie out of the bottle”.
This paper posits that the evolutionary stages of fire research outlined by NIST also reflect a history of how wildfire has been engineered to look by the output of fire-management institutions, research facilities and experimental laboratories. Beginning with Albini’s nomograms, it will consider the research output of the USDA Forest Service, concerning itself not with the advancement of complex computational models, but with the various visual guides and visual media that have supported mathematical breakthroughs that have, in turn, embedded a number of presuppositions and characteristics into how we visually relate to wildfire today. This paper will contribute to the wider research into the contested disciplines of knowledge production which are concerned with how fire burns and how fire looks.
Gradiva: On 20 July 1902, author Wilhelm Jensen published the novella Gradiva, based on an ancient Roman relief of a woman. In the book, an archaeologist falls obsessively in love with a marble relief of a dancing woman who comes to life in his dreams. Sigmund Freud was so taken by the story that the sensual arousal by an ancient beauty became a critical theme in Freud’s fantasy regarding the discovery of the self and the male ego; Freud even displayed a plaster copy of the sculpture in his study. The story and the muse thereafter became an icon in psychoanalytic practice and beyond, with the quest for self-discovery through the male gaze of the “ideal” woman. Surrealists including André Masson, Salvador Dalí and André Breton began depicting erotic scenes of “Gradiva” in explicit contexts, building the strong impression of an over-sexualised feminine beauty over which these artists claimed possession. These fictional narratives translated Gradiva from a mysterious artefact to exploited female identity.
Miquela: On 23 April 2016, the account @lilmiquela made its first Instagram post. Miquela is a 19-year-old Brazilian-American girl and an AI robot. She has become an Internet sensation and social media influencer, having collaborated with major fashion houses, celebrities and musicians. Her presence on the Web suggests the identity of a young woman who has had boyfriends and online feuds, and openly expresses her “realness”, sharing vulnerabilities and crying in selfies. Fans appreciate her candidness despite her being a fictitious being, but it is uncertain how many are fully aware of her misrepresentation. What becomes very problematic with Miquela is her tokenisation as a young woman of colour, taking opportunities away from actual marginalised creators. The deceptive overtones of Miquela’s existence raise the question of how much we willingly believe in the digital realm and how great the influence of a fictionalised icon remains today.
In June 2001, the US Department of the Army released its Field Manual 3-0, titled “Operations”, detailing the military’s role in “peace, combat, and war”. The field manuals are important physical artefacts, updated regularly to reflect what the military has learned about warfare in the built environment. The nineties’ interventions in Somalia (1993), the Balkans (1999) and later Iraq (2003)marked a pivotal shift in urban military operations. In 1996, Major Ralph Peters wrote, “The future of warfare lies in the streets, sewers, high-rise buildings, industrial parks, and the sprawl of houses, shacks, and shelters that form the broken cities of our world.” Dense urban areas have become the preferred theatre of combat, and many theoretical writings promote the strategic advantages of asymmetric urban warfare. The US military is becoming engrained in the fabric of “fragile”urban contexts, extending its presence and activities to outlast violent conflict.In the most recent field manual, a diagram divides the operational environment into three dimensions: physical, informational and human. These brackets demonstrate an attempt to master not only the physical forms of the city, but the societal forms as well, contributing to the expansion of the dimension of warfare through the blurring of civilian and military applications of control across a broader landscape.
As part of an enduring strategy of control and “stability”, the military has developed an interest in codifying informal architectural form. Replicas of informal cities are built to assess, rehearse and refine spatial learnings. Typology is given a distinct military makeover in which details of context, ornament and history are intentionally obscured.