Urban Tactics on the Arabian Peninsula

Celebrated as loudly as they are condemned, cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha of the Arabian Peninsula have become critical sites for global discussions about the purposes of cities. These cities will provide the landscapes for exploring the universalizing metrics and expectations of city life. The course is not so much a study of a region as it is an investigation of city making as a globally induced building boom, realized by the likes of American oil prospectors in Saudi Arabia and celebrity architects in Abu Dhabi.

Seminar discussions will investigate how globalizing methods of urbanization have been developed, translated, and adapted in this geographical region. Investigation of historical context will provide students the means by which to analyze forces and ideologies now shaping the newest cities and mega-projects in the region and beyond. Major social debates and press coverage surrounding these cities will be addressed, including, restrictions on public space, living and working standards for migrant laborers, and the impact of global events like Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, Dubai’s 2020 World Expo, and the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s new artificial-intelligence city NEOM.

Course readings will include various kinds of sources and viewpoints, including architectural criticism, trade journalism, fiction, literary journalism, historical documents, and academic articles in fields such as sociology and anthropology. There will also be several chances to assess film as a means toward understanding these cities. In a similar vein, students will be asked to tap various kinds of sources for their own work during the semester.

Students will be expected to participate actively in discussions. Both course projects will require students’ investment of time throughout the semester and the pursuit of both conventional and unconventional sources. Students are encouraged to use their proficiency in languages besides English to their advantage.