Obsession…but it feels like a fetish…

A fetish?! …an inanimate object with supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit

I have been living the last ten years in a landscape rich with water, rich with soil and rich with plants, the Berner Oberland in Switzerland. Each day this Berner Oberland landscape inspires me. I am happy in and enthused by this Swiss Alp landscape.

But yesterday, I came across an old folder of images that stunned me. Stunned? Yes, because as I went through all 50 of them, they gradually inserted themselves. Internally, I could not understand how the barren emptiness of the Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter, could elicit such a strange, such a pulsating attraction.

It was just memories, right? Yeah, ten years ago, I lived and worked there for more than a year as the installation manager for the landscape at this resort destination–that had its own memories–but the desert–the Empty Quarter has its own magnetism.

I feel it; but I don’t understand it.

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Credits to the client TDIC, the architecture team of Dubarch/Northpoint, the interior design by Hirsch, Bedner Associates and the landscape architecture team LMS International.


Comments on the images:

  • Something fundamental, basic. Where there is water, there is life. Where there is no water, there is no life.
  • After water, this Empty Quarter requires protection for safety of life.
  • The sand dunes are the seductive face of the Empty Quarter.
  • Why do you think the Bedouins call it Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter? 

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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