In 2008, just before the start of the previous recession, a think tank named Kartun Development Group (KDG) was created by Wes Jones; its members included me, Amir Lotfi, and Caroline Dahl.
As an urbanism think tank that operated under the guise of a fictional real estate development group (“Kartun” is an Arabic sounding play on the word “cartoon”), KDG’s videos and public statements were complete works of fiction that were rooted in thoroughly researched facts of the city-state. With the help of Adina Hempel and Richard Wagner who organized the research trip to Dubai, KDG analyzed the urban problems of that city and proposed drastic solutions. These solutions took steps toward implementation and realization by making sure that our proposals fit the operating principles of Dubai: conspicuous wealth and authoritarian class distinctions. By operating as if we shared the same motivations as Dubai’s power structures, KDG gave blunt criticism of the capitalistic autocratic regime while proposing changes that were feasible given the restrictions of the given power structure.
The biting social commentaries, delivered through irony like that of political cartoons, are still relevant today since the expansion of the city came to a halt following the 2008 recession. Dubai still operates mostly unchanged from the period, in which these research-driven projects were produced. Furthermore, a shortage of adequate shelters still remains today in Dubai.
“Understanding Dubai Inc.” (Credit: Robert Cha)
“Cohabitation: Low income housing for Dubai” (Credit: Robert Cha, Amir Lotfi, Caroline Dahl)