Dubai Landscape: the humans

…quarry for Gulf construction…

The Hajar mountains run along the Emirati and Omani border. Directly on the coast of the Gulf of Oman, they actually collect reasonable monsoon rain remnants about 1,000km south at Salalah, just before the Yemeni border. But here in this photo, the rainfall is rare. These mountains are quarry resources for the entire Gulf region.

…having fun yet?…

The Desert Zone bumps against the Mountain Zone. In the Desert Zone, only the presence of water supports humans. Even with water, humans struggle in the Empty Quarter.

…take the airs…

Avicenna marina, al qurm in Arabic. Salt water plants. Mangroves, lots of them in the region; except in Dubai where they are found only in the Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary–in the heart of Dubai Municipality. Mangroves enabled coastal life and architecture (branches for lintels and beams), fodder (leaves), cooking (charcoal). Besides date palms, they had no other woody plants.

…safe at last…or…

Dubai urbanification–this is the Coastal Zone. In fact, it is the heart of a growing 200km long megalopolis connecting Ras al Kaimah in the north to Abu Dhabi in the south. And it was once…Empty Quarter.

Dubai Transect Landscape

…empty quarter zones Dubai…

Dubai Municipality sits in the Coastal Zone. Al Ain is an oasis in the Desert Zone. The oasis is supplied by rare monsoon remnants, from the Gulf of Oman, captured by the Hajar Mountains in the Mountain Zone.

I wanted to understand a little more about the larger landscape into which the Dubai Municipality sits. Dubai Municipality is just a narrow, but intensely built, strip along the edge of the Gulf. From the above satellite image–it is hardly visible.

The landscape transect distance from Dubai, at the Gulf coastal edge, above on the left, across to the right to the Gulf of Oman is 100km.

Many times, I drove that transect through the Dubai Emirate on a main road, identifying essentially three distinct landscape eco-zones:

A Dutch doctor, a General Practitioner, Marijcke Jongbloed, lived in the United Arab Emirates for twenty years. She surveyed, 1983-2003, the landscape of the UAE. She compiled her findings in a book entitled, The Comprehensive Guide to the Wild Flowers of the United Arab Emirates. She photographed each plant in its natural habitat, annotated a location map and commented on how the plant was used by humans (ethnobotany). Best reference I found for plants in the UAE.

…sand or sun…but no water…

Aladdin? A lamp? No, it’s the Empty Quarter and it’s full of sand and genies…No!! It’s full of djinnis and gnomes and surfs and a whole lot of people…but the humans only live along the edges, right? No, no, no…it is nothing…nothing but a mirage.

 

Mirage…dream, dream, dream…when I want you in my arms, when I want you and all your charms…whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream…the Empty Quarter…dream.

🙂

(dream, courtesy of The Everly Brothers)

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.

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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

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(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

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Chalmers’ Lenses

…can you feel me…

Arid sand, salty sand, sand blasting winds–all under this sun–all day every day–underestimate its strength at your peril.

The 1950s–World War II was over, the modern West was recovering and going forward full tilt into modern life, cities, technology, everything. Meanwhile in the Arabian Peninsula, Maha Gargash, in The Sand Fish, tells that Noora al Salmi was living a life where her people were still defending their tribe against other tribes. And that beast of a sand desert was then, a half century ago, no different than today–perilous.

Chalmers knew how essential were his broad explorations of cultural and natural landscapes on this project. He knew that without those extra facets of knowledge, his expected success could be compromised and irretrievably undermined.

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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

               Chalmers’ Lenses

Despite the last minute circumstances around which Chalmers normally received requests to fix projects, he always endeavored to understand the larger landscape context of those projects. To Chalmers, this included understanding the regional geography, both natural and cultural. Knowledge imparted strength.

To broaden his understanding of the Rub Al Khali, Chalmers would vary his perceptions of a subject, through a variety of questions, then, with each question, he would consider a variety of options. He called each option, a lens–each different lens varying in its magnification. He would then sieve the varieties of information he discovered, to end up with the nuggets, the nuggets that could elevate project quality, assure project success.

For example, he asked himself, exactly where does the Rub Al Khali start and end? Do you measure it on a map of the world…a map of the Arabian Peninsula…a map of the Abu Dhabi Emirate…a map of the Abu Dhabi Municipality? Or, on a map of oral history, as told by a Liwa Oasis resident? Is it a question of natural geography, or, cultural geography? Is it a question of geographic space, or, geologic time?

Chalmers used all resources to understand the landscape, to filter information, to gain knowledge, to enrich his project. But despite all his calculated lenses and such, deep down Chalmers had a sense that this sand desert around which, over the last decades, he had built many projects–this sand desert had dimensions he could not measure.

  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**

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