Saturday, 3 November 2007

Begging from Dubai

From the blurb relating to the upcoming AA winter school, which will be off to dubai:

"Today, there is an urgent need to understand the Gulf's tranformation in a different light - not one defined by a knee-jerk pessimism, but to take seriously what is often being ridiculed."

Now, I would consider the urban development of the Gulf to be worthy of both pessimism and ridicule, but for different reasons. The ridicule is basically for the nouveau riche-ness of the iconography and aesthetics of the place, a grown up disneyland with as little taste. This is of course impotent; it is reminiscent of the scorn heaped upon the rising bourgeoisie from the usurped aristocrats at the fin-de-siecle, and the pamphleteer would be correct to say that this condescending attitude (oh, the crassness, the gold!) is pointless. However, the pessimism comes from elsewhere, and it is wrong to conflate the two. It is because of the gross exploitation upon which the glitter of the Emirates is built that we are pessimistic, an exploitation that is on a different scale to what has been seen for a long time: it is not for nothing that the Sheikhs portray themselves as latter day Pharoahs, commanding their armies of slaves up into the sky. Nothing new, of course, but this is just the ever-intensifying nothing new, going taller, bigger, with worse consequences.

Then, after being informed that to criticise Dubai is knee-jerk, a solution is proposed;

"Rather than delivering a mere critique, we will initiate a critical practice of involvement."

I'm sorry, but there is no difference in the level of impotence between a mere critic of Dubai and a critical-practitioner in Dubai, it is just that one is paid. It is disingenuous to suggest that there is any kind of field in the spatial productions of the Gulf that is in any way responsive to critical practice and I can only translate the sentence above as: "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" Again, nothing new, the ever present Speer-syndrome, one must work for those with the power, but why must this gold rush be dressed in quasi-critical language? Of course, an ethical architect is an unemployed architect, but the disjunction between the pedagogical position and the practical position is greater than it has ever been.

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