2023 Design Studies Thesis Prize: Alaa Suliman Eltayeb Mohamed Hamid’s Ghostopia: Interrogating Colonial Legacies and A Manifesto for The Modernized Nile

A dimly lit room displays

by Alaa Suliman Eltayeb Mohamed Hamid (MDes ’23) — Recipient of the Design Studies Thesis Prize.

“Ghostopias” are towns and villages in Sudan’s Nile Valley which have distinct architectural characteristics and a vast historical and cultural heritage. Unlike Ghost Towns, Ghostopias are towns that suggest a deep sense of morality, ownership, and collective laws—a manifestation of the lifetime psychological, societal, architectural, economic, and moral investment. Although Ghostopias fluctuate through time and are not physically intact, the relationship between the indigenous, the land, the river, and the architecture is inevitably robust, and the bond between the people and the fertile land is inseparable. However, their geographic location has made these highly functioning towns vulnerable to systemic and environmental inequities. The result has been the forced displacements—through the construction of dams—of these tight-knit indigenous communities, the loss of their identity, culture, and heritage, and the degradation of their architectural and social fabric, leading to cycles of intergenerational poverty, impacting their mental health and performance, and often threatening their existence. Ghostopias are communities with potential, willpower, and resilience, but their lack of agency and self-sufficiency hinder them from thriving. This research interrogates colonial legacies and the role of the modernization of the Nile in the demise of the highly functioning towns, underpinning the histories of the displaced. It investigates one primary question: 

What is the role of architects in resuscitating Sudan’s Ghostopias, and restoring the indigenous architectural, societal, and cultural heritage?