Meta-thoughts About the LAGI Project

The other day we received a well-intentioned email that posed the question about why we are doing the project in the UAE. The sentiment was that we should be doing more good by proposing the project in Africa or another region that is more needing of energy. But there was also mixed into the email, some misconceptions about the UAE and I thought it would be a good idea to post the email exchange since it addresses some of those misconceptions and gets to the heart of why we are holding the competition, and why we are holding it this first year in the UAE.

The email that we received was as follows (unedited):

Sorry but how could you be part of the crazy event that are happening in the Dubai region??????

Propose some projects in africa, in lost areas where people are starving, There are SO MUCH places that deserve such competitions than Dubai. Please do not tell me that you don't know that this project is going to be part of the "heavy consuming tourists attractor" that they are creating there! This area is a place in the world were the biggest energy is needed to live! Before to develop high tech solutions, maybe a little bit of common sense could make us go far further! I really have nothing against the Arab people, but this area is not alive! It is just a big showroom of a (fake) way of life where the only thing to do is consume!

The "real" people of these areas get poorer and can afford less and less because of these world scale projects....

How could such a good idea serve the aim of those tribes of investors who just want to do some Heavy money $$$$$$$$$$$$$$?

I know there are far more chances to get some sponsorship because those (unfortunately very intelligent) investors know that to get some tourist they need to propose different kind of activities....

I am really sorry for this mail but your project deserve far better...

And here is our reply:

Thank you for your thoughts and your kind email. This is the inaugural year for the competition. The reason that we are holding it in the UAE this year (from a practical point of view) is because we currently reside here, came up with the idea here, and we can document the sites and coordinate with people here. But it is also because 1) the country receives so many solar hours per year, 2) the country has one of the highest per capita carbon footprints and is wealthy off of oil exports - these two things make it the perfect venue to discuss alternatives to the status quo, 3) there is a lot of support here for such ideas and there is a precedent and the means for embracing large projects, 4) there is a rich tradition of Land Art by Emirati artists, and all the people of the UAE have a very close connection to the landscape, having been living quite organically with it almost universally just a couple generations ago.

The ideas contained within the design submissions will be adaptable for other areas, including places that very much need inexpensive/accessible energy (as you mentioned Africa, etc.) and we will be pursuing any and all outlets around the world toward representing designers in the construction of those project submissions that have real merit both as works of art and as power generating objects. We plan on holding the competition annually with future sites perhaps in the American Southwest, Australia, Southern Europe, Northern Africa, or China.

We are aware that once constructed the sites will generate international interest and increased tourism. We would like to generate as much publicity as we can towards greater public support for a quick transition from fossil fuels. We are not supportive of development projects that lack concern for the environment and we are doing our best to change the way that development is conceived of in Dubai, the UAE, and internationally. We don't see the down side of helping the region increase its cultural capital. Everyone in the UAE stands to benefit from a project such as LAGI. We would ideally like to adapt the ideas toward installations in the rural landscapes of the region to provide off-the-grid power to communities that could also benefit from it.

With regard to some of the specific questions toward the end of your email, it seems that you have a misinformed idea of the UAE and the nature of the people here. There have been some very slanderous and untrue stories told by reporters who are interested in quick and easy hit-stories that generate reputations for themselves and that fit into the preconceived notions that the West has towards the Arab world. It is a complex and nuanced relationship that does not benefit from derision and dismissal. In many ways, the development strategy of the UAE was greatly influenced by consultants from Europe, America, etc. who were interested in making money for themselves and so the blame for the fast-paced development and over-consumption of resources is one to be shared. The time is now for designers with an ecological bent, to do what they can to steer the ship onto a more sustainable course. Not everyone in the UAE is a "fake" consumer just like not everyone in your country is a "fake" consumer. Both places contain a plethora of individuals and personalities that comprise their complex cultural tapestries, from the "fake" consumers to the sophisticated artists and academics, and everyone in between. And we all are human beings who deserve great public art and renewable energy.

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