Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 3

Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 3

The map of Saint Andrew’s Church shows the nationalities of the groups that use space within the compound every Friday. The primary day of worship is Friday, rather than Sunday, to fit with the city’s Friday-Saturday weekend schedule. At Saint Andrew’s, several religious Christian groups (over 40 different congregations, from several different countries and sects) coexist in one limited space, and one can hear the adhan from the mosque next door as people file out of midday Church service, speaking many languages and mingling in the courtyard. The map tries to convey not only the volume and diversity of people who use this space, but also the way that this Christian compound skillfully blends into the urban fabric of its predominantly Islamic host country.

All of the maps that we have presented in this series attempt to capture a fleeting, individual experience, and in doing so make an argument about some aspect of Abu Dhabi not necessarily considered in “official” maps. If you were to map the city, what would you include? What would you leave blank? Let us know in the comment section below.

[Maps of St. Andrew’s Church by Sanyu Kisaka, Sachi Leith, and Meike Radler. Click on any picture to enlarge. Use left and right arrows on keyboard to go forwards and backwards.]


Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 2

Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 2

We continue our progression on unorthodox maps of Abu Dhabi. Check out part one here.

While the maps in the first series focused on physical spaces, the material things they contain, and the transactions that happen within them, this second set of maps takes a slightly different approach to concentrate on the people that occupy these spaces.

Though allocation of space plays a significant role in shaping any urban environment, it is always important to think about the people who inhabit this environment when venturing to represent it. How could you describe New York City, for example, without the flow of people in and out of the subways, without the buskers on the street, or without the teeming masses in Times Square? How could Paris be painted without the chaos of traffic around the Arc de Triomphe, or the crowds browsing the bouquinistes along the Seine? What is Buenos Aires without the Argentine street tango, Tokyo without its Harajuku girls, or Mumbai without its many vendors hawking spicy chaat and syrupy sweets? Abu Dhabi, similarly, is more than just its architecture. The flow of people through Abu Dhabi’s urban landscape is what brings it to life, and though the traffic patterns can change, the movement persists.

The maps of the Family Park, near the Corniche, record the people and activities observed there, showing the fluctuations in the demographic usage of this public space. This mapping process, unlike a more “objective” map, captures some of the lived experience of the park at various times of day. At some points during the day, the park lived up to its name, and there were many families engaged in leisure activity and sport; at other times, it was largely empty or occupied primarily by individuals. This map shows the ways in which this “family park,” regardless of its official name, is appropriated and domesticated to fit the needs of the surrounding community.

By representing Abu Dhabi, or aspects of it, in unconventional ways, these maps lend meaning to the metropolis. Though they may not be as typically “accurate” as something like Google Maps, they speak to the feeling of a briefly lived experience, looking beyond scientific exactitude and official designations to find meaningful patterns hidden within the urban space.

[Cllick on the images below to enlarge them.]


family-park-2 famliy-park-3


 [Maps of the Family Park by Gabrielle Garcia, Krushika Patankar, and Leah Reynolds]

Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 1

Mapping Abu Dhabi, Part 1

Think about a map. Think about how many times you consult a map, or use GPS, or depend on a landmark to find your way. Maps give us direction and put locations in context, emphasizing certain things more than others—usually transit routes or major tourist attractions. We could even say that maps are representations of a collective reality: in some ways, maps create the places they mean to represent. A map of a city, in other words, becomes the city. Take a look at any standard map of your home city. What do you see in that constructed city, and what is left invisible?

To make a map, one must oversimplify; things are by necessity left out in the process. Most traditional maps, in their quest for objectivity or scientific exactitude, sacrifice representing the lived, sensory experience of a place—an inevitably subjective experience. Recently, there has been a push to create maps that capture this sensory experience, prioritizing emotions over science. Radical and affective cartographies are those that subvert the traditional conventions of cartography and place importance on subjective descriptors to create maps that are not meant to be objective, but are meant to show a specific quality of a place during a specific time.

This alternate cartography was the aim for students in Dale Hudson’s Fall 2012 class, “Maps.” Students mapped the city according to subjective considerations, in an attempt to give Abu Dhabi more meaning—to transform it into a “place” rather than just a “space.” Unlike mere “spaces,” a “place” has personal, subjective meaning, because it is tied to the memory of a sensory or emotional experience. A map depicting “place” therefore aims to tell a story, and to transfer the memories of the cartographer to the map user. Like Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which the author compiles several seemingly disparate descriptions of imagined “invisible cities” that ultimately serve to describe his home city, Venice, these maps are an attempt to expose some of the “invisible cities” that exist in Abu Dhabi—representations that together help to give a more varied collage of perspectives on the city, instead of just the one you’d find in a tourist map.

The maps that we will present in this series examine such different locales as fish markets, the restaurants, parks, and churches. All attempt to capture a fleeting, individual experience, and in doing so make an argument about some aspect of Abu Dhabi not necessarily considered in “official” maps.

In Part 1, we present maps of the fish market at Al Mina Port and the restaurants inside an Electra Street superblock. (Click on a map to enlarge it.)







[Maps by Corey Meyer, Robert Moroch, and Anthony Murray, Nam Nguyen]




[Map by Alberto Manca, Rory McDougall, Haley Smith, and Luka Vasilj]

Poems and Images

Poems and Images

reflections of shorn sheets

there is the sea and there is me
dreaming of skin to sing like waves
to wash out all deliberation of beauty
in this melancholy scrub of sand-worn
paradise, the colossal fossiliferous sharks
beholden always to incandescent venus
rising on foam out of the sea,
dripping disdain for those who shine
only at night in shadows of fireflies
spinning webs of flickering light.
feasting on the fatigue of my yearning
they circle, relentless unseeing
yet all-seeing in their ill-wrought way.
so serve me up in a mirror of pearls,
i’ll break the chain of judgment into
shards in the immaculate indomitable sea.

City of Ghosts

i woke to a fall-er green

i woke to a fall-er green
and too-tight beat-up jeans
feeling within me seeds unseen

observing my face in a looking-glass
framed the familiar lineaments
seemed somehow changed

to gaze, to dance, soñar, brillar…
crooks shilling the green light at
the end of the dock—wasn’t it all
so close now? right here in my
tendered skin, burrowing, feasting

or more precisely a rabbit burrow,
the sheer fertility (futility) of fur
and sweat and mania in my silk
mine but not mine in this brave
new world of fakerity, pretend
(portend), todo por la plata (verde)

fuck-up. knowingly, will i brand myself
with this brand ubiquitous trendy
and tawdry? musty eye entails adulate
(minus some excessive vowels)? now
upon the brink of various milestones,
to be forced to enter that dreaded force
of cubicles and briefcases? inevitable
but dreadful, terrible…to draft-dodge?
yes, please, i’ll cross the border

into a starrier world,
viviré de absenta y tierra verde.


April Xiong is a first-year student at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Poems and images  © 2010 April Xiong