Written by Darrel Ronald

Al Manakh – A First Look

Al Manakh – A First Look by Darrel Ronald

Al Manakh 01

Cover, photo: Darrel Ronald

Since first seeing the AMO Gulf Cities study presented at the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale, most of us have been anxious to hear more about the region, and get an in-depth look at the economic processes at work. And so the wait is over with the release of Al Manakh, released throughout the Netherlands this past week, and is widely available, including at the NAi.

While the book was first released for the attendants at the May 2007 International Design Forum (IDF) conference in Dubai, it has been notoriously hard to get ahold of until now. The 495 page book was largely organised by Moutamarat, a recently-established private body that aims to “create business knowledge for the Arab world.”

Al Manakh serves as a barometer for the changes taking place in the region, and translated, the title means “the climate”. As Koolhaas writes in the opening, the book is a form of “critical participation”. But when he writes that “The Gulf is not just reconfiguring itself; it’s reconfiguring the world”, I find it hard to believe this is entirely special. Can we not say this about China? How about New York and London?

If you have already heard, both Koolhaas and Bouman will present the book at the NAi on September 10th at 20.00. If you haven’t reserved tickets yet, you are probably out-of-luck, since it has been sold out for some time. I don’t usually see scalpers at the doors either.

Al Manakh 02

Gulf Survey chapter, photo: Darrel Ronald

As you all might have read, the book is divided into three sections: a) Dubai Guide – edited by Moutamarat, b) Gulf Survey – edited by AMO, and c) Global Agenda – edited by Archis. You can read the introductory excerpts from Ole Bouman and Rem Koolhaas at Archis here.

Section one, Dubai Guide, does set the stage for the project, dealing with issues of publicity and privacy; authenticity and fantasy; social equity and environmental sustainability; growth rates and tourism rates; and looks at the overarching issues and problems facing the Gulf region, and in particular Dubai. The issues are somewhat global in that many cities around the world in emerging economies face the same set of problems due to fast, hard-to-control growth, and too much foreign investment. In some ways, this section comes across as though it was written for an under-educated audience, which is a possibly deliberate technique. Looking at the text, Design in Retail by Tim Greenhalgh, it reads as a “how-to” for retail entrepreneurs and what not to do when designing commercial spaces.

Al Manakh 03

Economic Data, photo: Darrel Ronald

Section two, Gulf Survey, is classic AMO/OMA from the start. While I have not read through the chapter in its entirety, it is full of economic data, images, projects, key players, social statistics, and key history. This chapter covers 62% of the entire book, so it will take you some time to enjoy it. Sections of this have already been printed recently in The Gulf, a fold-out pamphlet outlining the major projects in the Gulf region, and already available in bookstores. This content was also exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2006.

Section three, Global Agenda, is edited by Archis and aims to discuss broader urban and architectural issues. Ole Bouman’s introductory editorial raises the urgent question of “What must be done?”, and he doesn’t shy away from the position that architects and designers are obliged to engage in the shaping of the future and the shaping of our planet.

As he writes, “The To Do list for architecture and design is short. The planetary action list for architects and designers is endless however.” And as a direct hit at the self-satisfying architecture the world over he writes: “[Design] can draw its legitimacy not from making things nice for certain people, but from making things livable for everyone.”

Bouman doesn’t refer to aesthetics alone of course, but to the larger problems of infrastructure, housing, governance, climate change, social resources and so forth. It makes me think back to the first chapter of the book concerning semi-private space in Dubai, totally detached from the continuous public urban environment, with the goal of creating artificial ‘urban experiences’. The point at which we separate a fictional urbanity from a non-fictional urbanity is exactly where we fail in creating a viable future, continuous with the surrounding environments and its history. But of course, the only thing holding back the real from the artificial in Dubai is a row of palm trees and a concrete wall. What’s to stop us from tearing these down in the future? Hopefully the book will stimulate such a thought in the minds of the developers and designers in Dubai.

Here are the facts about the book:

Editors: Ole Bouman, Mitra Khoubrou, Rem Koolhaas
Managing editor: Arjen Oosterman
Design: Irma Boom, Natasha Chandani, Sonja Haller
Format: 24×17, 500 pages
Publisher: Archis Foundation
Distribution: Europe, Asia and USA by Idea Books, IPS Pressevertrieb
Price: EUR 29.90 ISBN: 978-90-77966-12-9

  Comments ( 6 )

  1. There is an LA Times book review by Christopher Hawthorne that pits Mike Davis against Rem Koolhaas here: http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-bk-hawthorne19aug19,0,62329.story?coll=la-books-headlines

    And the original article by Mike Davis in the New Left Review against Dubai:

    Further Reading from Dysturb:

    There is the previous post of Dysturb by Thomas:
    And another post by Claudia:

  2. Additional Conversation over the linguistic source of Al-Manakh:

    [11:26:29] Toms: more about the almanac, because to me it always meant “book of reference” – but we’re both right –
    [11:26:40] Toms: From Wikipedia: “An almanac (also spelled almanack) is an annual publication containing tabular information in a particular field or fields often arranged according to the calendar. Astronomical data and various statistics are also found in almanacs, such as the times of the rising and setting of the sun and moon, eclipses, hours of full tide, stated festivals of churches, terms of courts, lists of all types, timelines, and more. The word almanac comes from the Arabic المناخ al-manaakh, meaning “the climate”.” and “Currently published almanacs such as Whitaker’s Almanack have expanded their scope and contents beyond that of their historical counterparts. Modern almanacs include a comprehensive presentation of statististical and descriptive data covering the entire world. Contents also include discussions of topical developments and a summary of recent historical events. Other currently published almanacs (ca. 2006) include Information Please Almanac, World Almanac and Book of Facts, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac.”
    [11:27:44] Darrel: yes, but I don’t know if we can directly translate it… I also thought about that… but how can we verify the translation?
    [11:29:13] Toms: but didn’t you directly translate to climate? I think that’s valid.
    [11:29:38] Darrel: no… it’s in the book
    [11:29:46] Toms: but should have both meanings – the reference to climate (as in ‘world climate’) and the other meaning as ‘book of data’
    [11:31:01] Darrel: yes, I totally agree… but I didn’t want to get caught up in the linguistics… but either we can add this to the post, or as a comment… either/or…
    [11:31:35] Toms: I make a comment
    [11:31:52] Darrel: good idea…
    [11:32:06] Toms: pasting in this chat conversation maybe..
    [11:32:26] Darrel: hehehee… i don’t know… hmm… I’ll look back…
    [11:33:43] Darrel: the other thing about Almanacs is that they are prescriptive / predictive… we use them in Canada to know which weekends will be sunny… for example if you’re planning your wedding…
    [11:33:54] Toms: ah – there is something in germany we call the 100year-calendar, telling how the wether was on a certain day over the last 100years
    [11:35:09] Darrel: exactly… and for crying out loud, they’re usually right…
    [11:35:56] Darrel: The book is really a “primer” for the region… it seems to introduce Western concepts to the Arabic World… things missing that allow for their type of Architecture and Urbanism to exist…

  3. […] Toen ik Al Manakh uit had heb ik een abonnement genomen op Volume. Of ik dat voor jou ook zou aanraden hangt van jouw persoonlijke voorkeur af. Volume is erg theoretisch en het niveau Engels is niet laag. Is dit geen onoverkomelijk probleem dan zou ik het tijdschrift zeker gaan lezen. Er valt nog veel meer te zeggen over dit boek annex tijdschrift. Je kunt het onder andere lezen in recensies hier, hier en hier. […]

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