Sunday, May 12, 2013

One society .. One space

It was a sunny day .. As I stepped into my appointment , i could not but notice that I was in the middle of an urban acupuncture phenomenon ..
During the planning of Um Suqueim - the urban area where burj al Arab proudly stands - Dubai Municipality used the different urban scales of neighborhood , community and district to over lay its social infrastructure onto the subdivision plans grouping together the education , medical and convenience needs into one cluster .. The guidelines were published in the 1990's when dubai structural plan was formally approved and then reevaluated in the 2000's after the large scale urban developments springing in the city ..
These plots were silent for a long time .. Although school plots were the first to be built , the objective of providing a social infrastructure to the community could not be yet achieved ..
As I was stepping into my appointment at Aswaq, I realized that the vision that the planners back then were thinking of has materialized .. Next to Aswaq was a mosque and on its left was king's school .. You can see in the southern centers coffee shops and local small restaurans spilling ..
As I stepped into Aswaq gate , I saw an old prayer , one that was said in old Islamist era when one enters the souks .. In between Aswaqq ( souks in English ) and the actual souk in Arabic is one denominator , local community .. Aswaq brands were 100% Local brands from French bakery to the bookshop to the spa to the supermarket .. There is an air of informality , of spontaneity , of familiarity .. There was an air of being A Dubawian * and Dubawis ..
In old Islamic souks , the mosque was always next to them making it easy on people to leave their businesses and pray but also for Friday prayers crowd to spill over and regenerate the souk .. It was interesting to see that connection made thousand of years later ..
The one thing that I felt may need more attention on this coming- back- to - life- old- planning idea is the urban design aspect .. Between the contemporary design of king's school , the heritage inspired wind towers of Aswaq and the ornamental architecture of the mosque, the street perspective was kind of lost.. Urban design has been always a in- between no man Land between architecture and land use planning .. Design guidelines are always seen as discounting value by developers , restricting their creativity .. Many research done on urban neighborhood proved that adhering to flexible yet consistent guidelines actually increase real estate value because it is perceived as maintaining a long term sense of aesthetics and safeguarding the neighborhood spatial character and therefore identity . As we all strive to be distinct and unique , the urban space in between us suffers because its character leaks out trying to be everything for everyone .
As a social infrastructure project, guidelines might have been in fact a much needed dialogue between how as dubawians *and local dubawis we aspire our community values to be manifested architecturally.. Small focus groups might have been ideal to pinpoint objectives and then the technical consulting team might have deduced guidelines based on multiple residents sessions and their aspirations on how the area will develop..
Guided participatory sessions might have lead to a journey of discovery .. An interesting ride into um suqueim past , present and future aspirations as a community of transient , permanent and resident dubawians and Dubawis also .. It may also be an opportunity for Aswaq to relate more strongly to the community it serves by emotionally investing in building trust and communication ..
What is a relationship but trust and communication ?
So as I was leaving the parking , my head was boiling with sketches and bursting with this urban dilemma that while doing our best to anchor ourselves in values such as heritage , authenticity , creativity, we need to foresee The denominator in all - the space itself in the perceived and the perceiver .. In the experienced and the experiencer ..
We are the space and in return , the space becomes us as we build around it meanings and therefore character.. Urban character ..

PS I invented Dubawian to name residents of dubai emirate and Dubawis the citizens of dubai emirate

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