“It frequently occurs in the growth of cities that villages are absorbed into the fabric of that city. But what are the consequences of this? How far and how do these villages become part of the overall fabric of the city? How does this affect the village, and what is the effect on the wider city?”
Excerpt from ‘Do Villages Shape Our Cities?’ – Wafa Al Ghatam.
The force is strong with a title like that.
Remember how I mentioned in my previous post that I ‘briefly’ popped by Adliya with my cousins? It was the the third day of my trip and luckily this exhibition was on at the Al Riwaq Art Space. Imagine my excitement when I saw it was the result of research by a female Arab architect! That’s how I met Wafa – approachable, friendly and a creative. I couldn’t engage her for long that first time as she was about to be interviewed for a magazine/ television station so we exchanged contacts and agreed to be in touch.
With two days to the end of my trip, I reached out to her with the intention of both enjoying the gallery a little more, and interviewing Wafa for the blog. I had finally found a female architect from a similar cultural background as myself whom I could look up to, and from a quick Google search of her name, her credentials left me not only inspired, but enthusiastic too – like maybe I stand a chance at being not only good, but great at something too, you know? We agreed to meet at 4 pm at the Art Space on the evening before I left back for Nairobi to have a chat.
The phrase, ‘The Village In The City’, was first coined in a book by Nicholas Taylor in 1973, explains Wafa. Most of the time, the projects architects get involved in tend to be consumed only by a select few – those in the construction industry, professors, fellow architects or the client. Having an exhibition as such was meant to demystify and simplify the results of her research in such a manner that anyone would be interested to not only understand but also ask more questions about what they see. It’s meant to be engaging to the public. In summary, it is a study on how the growth of the city (Manama) has affected the villages, taking Muharraq as an example.
We spent about an hour discussing different things – from her entire research (in summary of course), and then onto women in architecture and what her advice would be to a recent graduate like myself. ‘Practice for about one or two years, and then you could proceed to further your studies’. At this point, Maryam joins the conversation. She’s an architect too, now doing her masters in London. ‘These days, students finish their Bachelors and want to go straight into doing their Masters. But how can you do your Masters without even knowing what to do, or what you like?’ she adds. My interaction with Wafa was more of a discussion than an interview, so towards the end of our discussion we walked around the exhibition to understand her thought process behind the items on display, and for me to take pictures of course.
Children, women, men, tourists like myself may walk into the space and view the printed images, text boards and even a plywood physical model. ‘The children love the model most,’ she says. I can see why, this laser cut technology has been around for a couple of years and is just beginning to grow in the Kenyan context as well. Upstairs, a cutout of the city map is placed on the ceiling and backlit from above creating an interesting play of shadows on the walls and floor. ‘What was the concept behind this piece?’ I ask Wafa. ‘In the shadow of the city,’ she responds.
‘Have you been to Muharraq?’ she asks.
‘Not really, I just drove by and my cousin pointed it out to me,’ I respond.
‘Would you like to go? I can take you there briefly. It’s fascinating how they live in their village. I trained some of my students to help me with the research and each one was stationed at a place so they helped me observe the patterns. The women especially are interesting subjects – within the village they can walk around in their ordinary clothes but once they leave their village, it’s no longer home territory so they wear their traditional abaya‘, she explains.
We left the gallery and drove by Bab al Bahrain, and since I’d never been, she parked her Jeep on the side street and walked me through the streets, explaining how they were planned, the whole while it being a discussion. I added that it feels like the streets in the coast of Kenya, Mombasa. We got to walk through Little India as well, an Indian neighborhood and briefly observed their patterns and how the spaces were planned. I got to buy a few souvenirs, and at this point my uncle called me to be back home so we couldn’t go to Muharraq.
We talked about a lot, but I remember asking her if there were a few things I could take from our conversation what would it be?
- Travel. You not only get to see and experience new places, but even grow as an individual through interacting with different people. This is a sentiment even Urko Sanchez conveyed to me when I interviewed him when writing my thesis.
- Ask questions. It’s always better to engage in open-minded discussions and not just take every information as truth, even though it may be factual. Make it a habit to understand the reasoning behind information you come across, make it a discussion and not a ‘lecture’.
- Experience in your chosen field is very important before pursuing further studies. If an opportunity does arise however, take it but get involved in practice too on the side. Be a lecturer’s assistant or get a part time job. The important thing is to always grow your skillset and gain experience.
In other news, the BAKE Awards gala took place last night 🙂
We didn’t win the title for Best Travel Blog this year but I’d just like to say a big thank you to all my readers! All those who nominated me, and voted for me. The nomination was such a huge affirmation to me, and I’m so grateful because either way I left the gala even more ambitious and positive as I would have if I won the award 🙂
Love and good vibes ❤