In response the feedback from class, I began my search with various combinations of “people” and “location,” or “place.” It expanded into areas like empathetic architecture, human-centred design; questions like “how do we make sense of space”? I found an excellent site with a series of essays on these kinds of topics.
While these will undoubtedly add new depth to my exploration of cities, they are the perspectives of the designers, not observers. I decided to see if these keywords found anything more relevant on Ted Talks.
After clicking through some “Related Video” links, I found OluTimehin Adegbeye’s Ted Talk about the changing landscape of Lagos, notably the forced eviction of people living in waterfront slums to make room for luxury apartments. In an attempt to be “the new Dubai”, Lagos developers are trying to “eliminate poverty” simply by ridding the city centre of any poor people. Having come from another “new Dubai”, I was interested.
In Doha I participated in designing an exhibition at Msherieb Museums, a heritage centre built by Msheireb Properties, a corporation heading the development of Msheireb Downtown Doha, a “lively urban neighbourhood featuring premier office space, retail, leisure facilities, townhouses, upscale apartments, hotels, museums, civic services, and exciting cultural and entertainment venues”. Our exhibition celebrated the cultural contributions of an immigrant population that skyrocketed during the 80s into the early 2000s and settled in “Sharq al Kahrabaa”. It did not address the part of the story when this land was purchased by Msheireb Properties, the residents evicted and the buildings demolished to allow for the development.
Thus my interest in Adegbeye’s theme of erasing and redesigning the space of a fringe community. The crux of her speech was that as a society we equate poverty with a loss of agency, dehumanising these communities and allowing the non-impoverished to make decisions about their future for them. To contrast this perspective she emphasised how these communities often form the unique character of a city, which is often what I try to access in my drawings.
A seemingly unconnected but potentially significant obsession I’ve been fostering with a Drag Queen reality TV show made me consider my interest in and relationship with fringe communities. I am lucky to fit easily into societal roles that were presented to me at birth – gender, sexuality, class, etc. Consequently I struggle to relate to with communities that live between these lines, yet have always been fascinated by difference. This, again, makes me an observer, rather than designer, and I always feel on the edge of voyeurism and exoticisation.
I am still working out all of these connections, but I wonder if more research in the realm of how people research, relate to, the in-between communities of a city might be an interesting turn.