The Al Qattara Oasis in Al Ain

Instructors: Jorge Silvetti; Professor of ArchitectureFelipe Correa; Assistant Professor of Urban DesignFRAMEWORK:The oasis, as the primordial origin for water, has for centuries acted as a pervading facilitator in the relationship between people and arid ground. Pictured for centuries as a precise moment of happiness surrounded by despair, Oases have been key players in the cultural imaginary of arid geographies. From those of urgent need to those of excessive affluence, these globules of green within a boundless field of sand have had a time-honored tradition as instigators of diverse forms of settlement. The City of Al Ain, formerly known as Tawam and Buraimi and originally composed of a series of loosely associated tribal groups, serves as a paradigmatic example of an urbanism that capitalized on a singular water supply to define a new way to occupy and transform a barren environment. The intrinsic value historically attributed to Al Ain, located 160 kilometers inland from the Persian Gulf, has been primarily geographic. The city emerged as a key point in the cross roads of the south-west route used by traders for centuries. Envisioned as a fertile oasis, it rapidly became a reliable point of rest, where caravans could be replenished with fresh water and food. This specific condition proffered inventive ways to manipulate water for agricultural production, resulting in an intrinsic public works system that allowed for the emergence of an expanding green enclave within a predominantly arid biome. The Falaj, an irrigation system composed of an agile network of conduits that directed water to date groves located in the lower geographies of the city, served as the backbone for the development of Al Ain\’s urban morphology. This logic of the Falaj, paired with newer irrigation systems, primarily desalinated water mechanisms, have allowed for a continuous presence of this extended green productive quilt. Today, the Oases continue to have a significant presence in the cultural imaginary of the city, both as a productive geography and also as a set of symbolic spaces for collective gathering.This trans-disciplinary studio (24 students and two instructors) offered concurrently by the Departments of Architecture and Urban Planning and Design, will use the Al Qattara Oasis as an open laboratory in order to explore the potential transformation of traditionally productive grounds into an integrated network of active open spaces within the city. The pedagogic and research aims of the studio will focus on investigating the broader role of the Oasis as an initiator of urbanism and its ubiquitous presence in the urban evolution of Al Ain and the desert city at large. Furthermore, the studio will aim towards clear configurative strategies that explore the embedded potential of the Oasis to perform as a dual operative device that can on the one hand, continue to be part of the region\’s larger productive ecology and also act as a host for a variety of collective programs and qualitative infrastructures. Primarily the introduction of an institutional campus devoted to the study, production and advancement of the Arts, Crafts and Design traditions of the United Arab Emirates and the region at large. STUDIO STRUCTURE:Given this broad topical diversity of areas of expertise that need to converge in the investigation of this complex environmental phenomenon, and considering that the current plans and projects that exists for this particular area are not advanced to a point where they had established a clear vision and convincing strategy for the recovery and integration of the Al Qattara Oasis, the process of analysis and design for this joint studio will not pursue the linear steps of the traditional master plan methodology which do not seem to apply easily to the vague and ambiguous conditions and quality of the information at hand. Instead, the studio will proceed in the