A multimedia section from “Mapping Dubai,” a research project undertaken by Yasser Elsheshtawy, is currently featured in the BMW Guggenheim Lab exhibition in New York. “Participatory City: 100 Urban Trends” is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from 11 October 2013 to 4 January 2014. The exhibition is a global project that offers free programs and projects about important urban challenges in cities around the world. It explores the major themes and ideas that emerged from the Lab during its travels to New York, Berlin, and Mumbai from 2011 to 2013. Led by international, interdisciplinary Lab Teams–groups of emerging talents in the areas of urbanism, architecture, art, design, science, technology, education, and sustainability –the Lab raises awareness of key urban topics, and inspires an ongoing conversation online and through the projects it developed in cities.
“Mapping Dubai” seeks to identify the relationship between Dubai’s urban form and the extent to which it facilitates human interaction. Given the city’s rapid growth, there is an urgent need for studying its urban form in a systematic manner that would allow for a more thorough understanding of the city’s urban spaces. The study will achieve this through the use of a mapping project, and relating this to its social structure. This methodology aims at capturing the flavor and dynamics of the city of Dubai. To that effect, various innovative techniques involving photography (still and time-lapse), ethnographic mapping, and video are being used. The overall outcome will be an urban portrait of select areas within Dubai, which navigates between the macro and the micro level. Moreover, the study moves from a strictly documentary perspective to one that involves and captures the subjective perceptions of city dwellers as they move through the urban environment. Various modes for a graphic representation of space will be used for this purpose.
The multimedia entry entitled “Urban Trend,” selected for the theme “Multi-cultural Cities,” uses time-lapse and regular video footage to highlight the extent to which Dubai enables such a condition through its neighborhoods that are home to a large migrant population from South-Asia. The video shows how everyday life unfolds on a street corner through the course of the day (the footage was shot over a couple of months). The extent to which this corner becomes a microcosm for that community enabling them to maintain their local lifestyle suggests a way to conceive of multiculturalism not necessarily as a place where people from different backgrounds mingle and interact but also the nurturing of sites that highlight local diversity. Explanatory texts highlighting the diversity and richness of behavior that occurs on this street corner is provided throughout the presentation. The video concludes with a commentary on how multiculturalism is manifested in Dubai, and potential urban interventions that would enable and promote such a condition through the celebration of everyday life.
Yasser Elsheshtawy is Associate Professor at the United Arab Emirates University. His research is focused on urbanization in developing societies, informal urbanism and environment-behavior studies, with a particular focus on Middle Eastern cities. He authored and edited a series of books which include Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle (2010), The Evolving Arab City (2008), and Planning Middle Eastern Cities (2004, 2009) – all published by Routledge, London.