In the early Seventies, after the establishment of the United Arab Emirates as a State, the government set welfare programs for its new citizens – at that time mostly Bedouins – to make the population sedentary and establish the new modern State. People’s needs had to adapt to a new lifestyle and the result of the urbanization plan had various turns; among them the creation or idealization of a new identity. Foreigner experts set rules and gave shape to the Emirati Sha‘bī houses, a modern yet somehow traditional housing model, that were built on the government’s expense and were given to the population. Since then, the Country has seen enormous changes, with a constant increase of expats workers that completely transformed demographics. The fast-growing economy rushed construction development, resulting in tall buildings and neutral spaces, based on the assumption that these solutions would ideally accommodate people flooding to the country, no matter their culture and background, nor the local identity. But the pandemic caused by Covid-19 increased the discrepancy between people’s needs and the actual available space. A survey about the perception of the house space during the pandemic was used to collect feedback and experiences from a large group of people of diverse nationalities, and interviews with professionals were conducted. Similarities and differences were highlighted and results offered interesting findings, especially about how houses that were built with the traditional house space as a reference were more effective than the modern kind of apartments. This essay proposes an analysis of housing typologies, from the traditional Sha‘bī houses until the contemporary living units, identifying the characteristics of each model and reflecting on their performances in the Covid-19 pandemic period, while pondering on the implications for people’s identities, their mental and physical wellbeing, and the country’s development.
Emanuela Corti – Researcher, product designer and educator. After the Master Degree in Furniture and Textile Design from Milan’s Polytechnic Emanuela had experiences in China and in the United Arab Emirates, where she is based since more than a decade. She is currently teaching at Ajman University in the College of Architecture, Art & Design. Her research expertise encourages the exploration at the intersection of design and fashion with a strong interest related to inclusive and social design, and smart fabrics. She believes in a user-centered approach and sees design as a problem-solving process that has the power to improve lives through innovation. In 2012 she co-founded Caravan, a platform of dialogue across professionals with different expertise, a design collective with a multidisciplinary approach that suggested an alternative point of view to the contemporary public and domestic environment. Blending digital-fabrication and artisanal expertise caravan’s projects aim at creating awareness of heritage to face contemporary challenges. In 2017 Emanuela co-founded Witsense, a startup dedicated to sensible innovation. The project received international recognition and European funding. Witsense designs and manufactures sensible innovative products and services with high technological content such as sensory objects and tools, design elements aiming at life’s improvement that promote social inclusion. Dr Irene Pasina – Born in Italy, she has a PhD in Interior Architecture and Exhibition Design and an MS in Interior Design, both achieved at Politecnico di Milano. After years of teaching at Politecnico di Milano, in 2017 she moves to Saudi Arabia, as an Assistant Professor in interior design at Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, where she starts to investigate a topic that reflects the specific context of the Interior design discipline in Saudi Arabia, Women in Interior Design in Saudi Arabia. It focuses on the role of young women in the field of Interiors and it is presented in international conferences and publications. In 2020 she moves to Ajman University in UAE, as an Assistant professor in Interior Design at the College of Art Architecture and Design. She maintains an interest in the topic of women in interior design, and she starts to consider the similarities and the differences of the different environments she has experienced. She is now the founder and Principal Investigator of the research group “Interior stories, Interior Voices. Women in Design in the MENA region” that aims to investigate the role of Women in Interior Design in the contemporary world across different countries in the Middle East.