Emptiful: Changing the paradigm in a post-oil landscape

by Aiysha Alsane (MLA I AP ’19)

Through common language, we describe the desert as empty space: a void without substance due to loss.  Across several languages, “desert” is associated with feelings of abandonment, scarcity, and death. Characterized in this manner, the desert is rendered to a worthless and uninhabitable state. This thesis concerns itself with the desert’s fullness, from its material and ecological being to its social and cultural agency.

The static nature of conventional drawings does little to depict the desert’s transient properties and the multiplicity of ways that it supports occupation. The project redraws the arid desert of Kuwait depicting its innate qualities to redefine its perceived value. Since life in the desert relies on the precious existence of water, the selected sites are within an ephemeral watershed. These sites are of burned oil fields from the First Gulf War and their intersection with Kuwait Oil Company’s “released lands.” Those lands were a symbol of wealth due to petroleum, an inextricable part of this desert’s geology. Then, they became a symbol of destruction and loss. Today, petroleum exploration has seized and the land released for development. Using methods to capture, amplify, and extend a new fullness, the design intervention repopulates this desert in a catalytic manner. Reacting to a unique geological composition steeped in a history of emptiness and fullness, the project draws on novel ecosystems to introduce controlled plant succession and the consequent flora and fauna ensued to repopulate these barren lands. All the while, the resulting ecosystem reveals this desert’s innate fullness.