Cement Halos and Gulf Urban Planning OCD
Back in 1988, the Abu Dhabi Volcano fountain rose out of the corniche like Triton’s head. It burst out of the boardwalk like long-submerged alien ship rising from the sea. Its scented water cascaded down through the prongs of a turret-like crown. That cement halo still floats sovereign over all my childhood memories of Abu Dhabi. And although my descriptive similes might be all mixed up about it, my feeling that it was the city’s loss to demolish it are not. The Gulf Times brought it up today and I had a few thoughts about the fountain.
In many ways it was an accidentally appropriate choice of form. The patterns of growth in the Gulf mimic that of molten lava cooling into a plain. We burst out of nowhere and the expansive hopes of the city’s planners in 1970 (which in retrospect seem almost adorably humble) all came true and then some. And so in 2004 when the volcano was rubbed out and plugged up, it was almost like putting a cap on a well. Abu Dhabi was built to accomodate 600,000 people maximum – today it’s nearing the million mark. Maybe it was too much too fast.
So from Doha, a place which as I speak is going through an awkward phase. It is just now going into adolescence, prone to pockmarked acne of construction pits and incomplete buildings with patchy grass around the edges like a 14 year old’s mustache. Electricity Street, the original Souq Waqif and many other places have been either earmarked or already transformed because they do not match the obsessive compulsive re ordering of street maps, the aesthetic fascism of matching glass towers or ‘heritage’ style or as in the case of the area where I grew up, fall under the cement flab of a desperately needed parking lot.
So for the sake of my dangerously nostalgic tirade, here’s a photo of my sister and I circa ’88 @ the site of what was once Abu Dhabi’s greatest landmark. We were so small then.