There is no Arabia Felix without the Rub al Khali.

Felix (1)

Rub al Khali–the Empty Quarter…a massive natural and cultural enigma

I can not escape its sand. I can not escape.


Cross Cultural

Lived lots of years in foreign countries–foreign cultures.

Cross-cultural are experiences in which I have been face-to-face with people and behaviours I did not understand and often did not agree.

…as opposed to multi-cultural which is theory only.

In my work as a landscape architect in those foreign countries and foreign cultures, I had to build major projects. Had to reach workable agreements in difficult cross-cultural conditions. Learned so very much from so many different people.

The links below track some of my cross-cultural journeys.

They are all HD, all less than one minute long, and they are all growing from the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali.


Rub al Khali Enigma: the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula, what it is.



Dreams: how to get from dreams to fiction to reality, Atlantis Dubai 2008.



Empty Quarter: transforming cross-cultural realties, harsh environments into restful shelter, Qasr al Sarab 2010.



A Golf Academy in the Empty Quarter?


Maps: Arabia Felix

Maps are fun. Maps are codes–landscape codes that blend natural and cultural geographies.

Maps and cartography…other ways of taking landscape journeys.

The Empty Quarter is the central landscape influence of my landscape story, The 23 Club.

Arabia Felix

Arabia Felix…happy? Why?

Felix is the only portion of the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula to receive regular rainfall. The tail ends of Indian sub-continent monsoon cyclones push into the mountains and valleys of the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

The valleys of Yemen have fertile soil and dependable rainfall–thus, felix, Arabia Felix.

Sustainable Rimal

The open forum of majlis functions from small groups of close friends, up to and including the largest groups of people speaking directly to the rulers of each Emirate where anyone can speak with the ruler at majlis. It is relaxed as is traditional at majlis--relaxed as the four Emiratis in the above image--note that three of them are wearing aqal headresses and one is wearing a hamdaneya headress.

The open forum of majlis functions from small groups of close friends, up to and including the largest groups of people speaking directly to the rulers of each Emirate where anyone can speak with the ruler at majlis. It is relaxed as is traditional at majlis–relaxed as the four Emiratis in the above image–note that three of them are wearing aqal headresses and one is wearing a hamdaneya headress.

Erik Chalmers, Jean-Claude Thibaut and Theuns van der Walt share a social night of conversation over dinner and televised football with a small group of Emiratis who have a special interest in the Liwa Qsar Project under construction in the Empty Quarter.

Following is a short part from Chapter 11: Villa Majlis to impart some of the landscape feeling of The 23 Club.


The 23 Club

Immersed in the contemporary culture of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, against the backdrop of the Empty Quarter, The 23 Club tells the inside story of how an iconic project gets built in the oil rich, Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Table of Contents

  • Desertification
  • It’s 2AM
  • Spike Lounge
  • The Walk
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal
  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis

               Sustainable Rimal

What happens when popular jargon meets a larger than life, a larger than time landscape? What is sustainable about something that is ‘always shifting’  Or, rather, is ‘always shifting’ the most fundamental component of sustainability? Is sustainable larger than time, is it larger than eternity? Ha!! The more attention paid to popular jargon, the more folly suffered!

Fairuz, an Emirati from Liwa Oasis taking personal interest in the Liwa Qsar project, Jean-Claude, the Belgian Ethnobotanist, and Erik Chalmers had much in common. They shared interest, yet with varied perspectives, on the sands (rimal) and on the Bedu life style.

They sat down together. Fairuz asked for dates and kaouwa, Arabic coffee, which was then roasted, ground and prepared on a side table next to him. Chalmers and Jean-Claude joined him. Traditionally taken in restrained amount, kaouwa and dates were a sweet, soft, tender, buttery, room temperature date washed down with a thimble full of the hottest, bitterest, freshly brewed, cardamom and clove flavored coffee.

Following the kaouwa, Chalmers took the opportunity to explore a topic which had been on his mind since hearing Kelvin Isley the other day describe his experience of an almost unearthly, powerful rhythm of the heat emanating from the sands. He drew on Thesiger’s recognition of the exceptionally strong power of the sands. Thesiger had observed in the Bedu, people intensely occupied with the sands, they never commented on the beauty of the sands, the sky, the night, or the sunset.

Chalmers asked, “In books from both before, and, since the coming of Islam, I have read that djinni, spirits, have resided as unusual forces in the sands. Fairuz, I’m curious, is there anything about the djinni in the sands that could be a good reference for landscape architects these days, sustainability, or otherwise?”

Jean-Claude listened carefully to the question and internally put it into a larger context. He could see the desire among certain social groups for sustainability as a desire for secular eternality, a contemporary replacement for the stability traditionally supplied by religions. As far as he was concerned it was short sighted, a passing fad, ignorant of powers greater than the human mind and intelligence, ignorant of the powers that moved the sands, that put the sands in place. But, at the same time Jean-Claude valued these social efforts, seeing them as an opportunity to get more people in touch with their ethnobotanical roots.

He re-focussed and interjected some facts, “If I may, on the sustainability part, for centuries, it can be concluded that without oil and electricity, this Abu Dhabi Emirate region sustains at most about 25,000 humans, but with very significant, serious hardships.”

“Interesting this concept of sustainability,” Fairuz started, “I agree with your numbers; but, the quality of their life, the tenuous nature of the supply of food and water made life here almost like a, a penal colony.”

Fairuz suggested, “Current environmentalists, mostly from the temperate Western world seem to romanticize a simpler life style–pre-oil–pre-industrial. Life here was hell, even fifty years ago, a day in-day out major struggle for existence.”

Jean-Claude added, “Along the same line, I recently read a novel written by an Emirati lady, born in the 1940s. SandFish was the title and the lady’s name was Maha Gargash. She described her life as a youth and their small herd of goats in the foot hills of the Hajar mountains. She went on, writing that after marriage, her move to the Dubai region, with its dependence on pearling–was nothing but impossible hardships, her whole life–absolutely impossible hardships!”

  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon


(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

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Landscape…a passion, or?

It may be a passion trying to find fertile ground, before it takes root. But then as it takes root, a strange transition occurs–passion into obsession–the roots go wild, they travel hard and fast and far…the obsession grows…and then what?

Landscape Passion

Berner Oberland: a humid, temperate, arable soil forest that I first experienced in real life in the 1960s, and it has been a landscape destination for me every decade since.

Landscape Passion

Rub al Khali: an arid, tropical, topsoil free, sand desert that I first experienced as, if you will permit me, a mesmerizing augmented reality in David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. That was also in the 1960s in the London West End. It became a landscape mystery I have explored every decade since.

Throughout my professional landscape architectural career, I have over and over, walked, drove, read, smelled, heard, felt–explored the above landscapes…they live inside me–they have taken root. They are growing.

From these distinctive landscapes has emerged a landscape obsession, an infatuation that can only be satiated by giving life to landscape stories, fictional stories that derive from personal experience, stories that endeavor to explain those landscape experiences which are…beyond words.

My first landscape story is The 23 Club, and it does unbundle those two landscape images above, revealing…(to be continued)

…still felix? Hardly!

…my tether?

Four incredible deserts–Nafud, Dahna, Nejd and the Rub al Khali. No weather reports–no GPS–no communications? No way. Still felix?

Our Western image of the Empty Quarter landscape, an image pieced together from the writings of our past, the holy books, the Greeks, the Romans, Marco Polo(1254-1324), Ibn Battuta(1304-1369), the ships docking in Genoa and Venice, the writings of Richard Francis Burton(1821-1890), Gertrude Bell(1868-1926), T.E. Lawrence(1888-1935),  Wilfred Thesiger(1910-2003), and others, continues today–even with GPS, even with 24/7 online large pipe digital coms–to be a mystery…an unknown landscape…still beckoning…still threatening.

Arabia Felix


Arabia Felix…some call it the Yemen–but, why felix? Because it gets rainfall…it is happy. But it is the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali, the arid, tropical sand desert that is the true enigma.

There is no Arabia Felix without the Rub Al Khali.

Straddling the Tropic of Cancer and, known in English as The Empty Quarter, the world’s largest contiguous sand desert…has always been, and still is, for humans…an enigma…throughout millennia…a massive natural and cultural enigma.