Tag Archives: Dubai

Mudbricks and Megamalls: Architect talks Sustainability & Corruption in the Middle East

I speak to award-winning architect Salma Samar Damluji about her mud architecture work in Yemen and why Dubai’s property development mentality is ruining the Middle East

The Middle East may be a fascinating place politically but architecturally, it’s on its last legs. Years of corruption and poor governance mean it’s slowly becoming one of the ugliest places on earth. You just need look at at the sprawling mess of glass and metal in Dubai to realise that something has gone awry. Salma Samar Damluji, an Iraqi architect of 30 years says that greed and corruption is behind the fall of architecture and insists that this money rush is destroying the region’s architectural heritage one building at a time.

And no-one knows this more than Damluji. She has fought what she calls architectural recolonisation in Egypt alongside Hassan Fathy who championed mud architecture practiced by the falaheen (rural peasants) in the 197os. And she’s also worked in Yemen restoring and renovating eco-friendly mud buildings in Yemen’s Wadi Hadramout where ancient building can disappear over night.

“In Europe, countries have been able to preserve their own culture, architecture and urban heritage but the rest of the Arab world hasn’t done that,” explains Damluji. “So as a result they have no architectural heritage left – everybody is imitating Dubai which is a complete disaster. Unfortunately you see the result of it now all across the Arab region.”

One country that Damluji believes has been able to hold back the mass commercialisation of architecture is Yemen. “When I first went in 1981, there was a kingdom of architecture and there was a huge rich resource of architectural heritage. Yemen, I felt, was the last place in the Arab world that had this incredible civilisation and urban heritage that had been going on for hundreds of years. They were so developed that they were creating these amazing palaces out of mud – very modern too. I felt that there was a cause there and I felt I had to take on that cause.”

She has been visiting Yemen ever since and from 2005, the Daw‘an Mud Brick Architecture Foundation has supported her work to restore buildings in Wadi Hadramout. Another important institution has been the Cultural Emergency Response (CER) of the The Prince Claus Fund in Netherlands, which funded restoration projects in ‘Aynat and Sah following a destructive flood in the region in 2008.

Damluji’s effort to protect and preserve the mud architecture of Yemen, however, hasn’t been easy. Civil war, political in-fighting and badly mismanaged resources mean she’s had to rely on outside support to carry out any restoration and she also has to take on other projects just to make a living. And it isn’t getting any easier.

“It’s harder now than it used to be to work in Yemen as a woman because there are more people in Hadramout who are more… I wouldn’t say fundamentalist. There is a worse level of education and people are taking the girls out of school at the age of 12 to get them married and people rely on money that comes from relatives living in Saudi and the Gulf.”

“So, things are difficult but there is still an architectural scene for me to engage in and there are all these builders who I adore but the people don’t like dealing with a woman… They think that to become good Muslims they need to do what the Saudi’s do and not talk to women. I think they’ve got the wrong end of the stick.” Continue reading

How Sharks Keep Us Breathing: An Interview with Filmmaker Jonathan Ali Khan

“What is happening to sharks around the world is the most shameful and biggest commercial sellout that man has ever perpetuated against the natural world” – Marine Conservationist and Film-maker Jonathan Ali Khan

Swapping fashion design for fish and wildlife, the film-maker Jonathan Ali Khan has been working on marine conservation in the United Arab Emirates for the past 25 years. His series ‘Arabia’s Cycle of Life’ reached 25 million viewers in the Middle East North Africa region and his latest project ‘Sharkquest Arabia’ is a 2-film TV documentary which uses natural history to communicate the issues facing sharks throughout Arabia’s waters. Green Prophet caught up with Jonathan Ali Khan to talk about the important role sharks play in keeping humans alive, what fisherman can do to protect sharks, the Japanese and Chinese lobby, and how TV and film may be the best way to reach a wide audiences about wildlife conservation.

Why are sharks important for preserving ecosystems and why should we be working for their conservation?

Jonathan Ali Khan: The role of sharks is to manage the food chain. It’s no mistake that these animals possess a formidable range of senses and qualities that have positioned them at the top of the aquatic food chain. As the apex predator, the role they play in the fundamental law of natural selection is in fact linked to the overall health of the seas of our planet. With 92% of our living biosphere being aquatic, almost 80% of our planet’s air is generated by the algae and microscopic phytoplankton that are found in the sea. Many thousands of fish species and other marine organisms feed on phytoplankton and algae. Sharks on the other hand prey on the fish that feed on plankton; right up through to the top of the food chain. So if we remove the sharks, as we are systematically doing at an unsustainable rate of over 70 million sharks a year, then it leaves the plankton feeders free of predation and free to gobble up the main source of our planet’s main oxygen supply! Therefore, it is in our interest to maintain a healthy source of oxygen and air, if we want to keep on breathing! Continue reading