new post research summer 2014 : Breeze 3 – drawings and remarks on Aglaia Konrad’s film and research “Desert Cities”

Dear All, I wanted to put this online, although it needs still English language correction – please forgive the misstake 🙂 R

Breeze 3 – drawings and remarks on Aglaia Konrad’s film Desert Cities, a research, which she started in the 90 -s  in Egypt

These series of drawings were inspired by unfinished Syrian construction sites. Many urban constructions stood unfinished and empty in Syria and Lebanon. Refugees from Palestine inhabited since decades these empty concrete block in South-Beirut. In Syrian neigbourhoods I saw a Kurdish familiy living in an unfinished apartment block. They fled from the North-east of he country and transformed the bare concrete spaces with organic, home made methods into a cosy flad and  the mother of the children invited me for a tea.

The gap between urban planning, investors’ visions and plans and between the informal survival methods, organinc groth of space was since ever big in Middle East.

Even before 2011, in those times, when there used to be everywhere central water supply and canalisation in Syria, it was never considered by the peope to be reliable enough, so people had their own watertanks on the roofs. There was a central electiric power supply, but still you saw decentralized small private electric powerstations infront of the small shops in the city center powered by petrol. Besides this, all the people had an own statelite receiver, which gave all the roofs a speacial character. (Next photo is Aleppo, maybe 2009, you see all the satelite dishes and the cubes of the watertanks on the roofs.)


Rooftops, Aleppo, middle class, satellite dishes and water tanks photo taken  around 2010

Besides the contemporary postmodern, creativity of the people to survive in the gaps and errors of centralized planning, the ancient methods inherited from the times oft the antique and roman empire and local  handcradt traditions and architectuee survived – often hidden in non-academic knowlede gaps and used by the people: watertanks, cooling methods , amphoras, olive soaps, ice- production and many things. Even the poorest paysant woman, who sat in 2010 on the ground on the market place in Latakia, Homs or Damascus offered two kind of lemons: one big and yellow and cheap and the other heap of lemons, smaller, greenish simple and more expensive, that was the product of her organic farming, called in arabic „balladi“ – country- side products.



Location: South of Damascus – Al-Kadam 2014
Date: 11 / 10 / 2014 ( source Lens Dimashqi – anonymous photographer, Damascus) – The story: using the Alternative Energy to charge these mobile phones due to power outage in the southern neighbourhoods of Damascus .



Palestinian refugees  inhabit  unfinished concrete blocks in Beirut since decades



Beirut, Palestinian refuge camp. source:



When I saw the film Desert Cities by Aglaia Konrad and her lecture on vimeo, I was reminded of so many expreiences from Syria and had suddenly so many ideas how build a brigde between the anciant heritage and the ruins of modernist dreams. Some of these drawings you see here.   Her film reflected also the loneliness oft he female observer facing the disaster. There is no life without water.


Here you find the link to the video:




Anglaia Konrad on  Desert Cities in Egypt her research started in the 90 s , ‘Aglaia Konrad discovered the Egyptian ‘Desert Cities’ during a brief visit to Cairo in 1992, becoming intrigued by the vast scale of this long term project. The project she instigated explores the application of modernist principles to the architecture of the new cities that have been emerging over the last 15 years, but still seem hardly occupied. Reflecting on these dwellings that developed alongside archeological sites in an exoticised landscape, the project questions urban planning strageties in a society where the consequencies of recent social reforms have not yet fully materialised.’ ( source vimeo)



Ancient watering system of he Nuiras in Homs –  can we envision utopian more organic possibilites of urban planning and water economy?


Drawings inspired by Egyption ghost cities and Aglaia Konrad


The great film by Aglaia Konrad, makes me aware oft he gaps between central planning and grand scale investment strategies and daily methods of survival as practiced by the creativity of people from middle east and influced by inherited handcraft and science methods since roman age, they merge easily with new age existence.

Also Aglaia Konrad creates a direct aesthetical paralell between the heritage of ruines from the antique time in the so called Craddle of Civilisation and the abundenned ghost cities created by modernist investors, central planning and real estate speculation. The investors build huge housing blocks in the desert near Cairo in the 90-s, but there were no jobs, no good transport infrastructe and no water for agriculture. She calls her research a dwelling.   – the same word we use in antique excavations.

The opposite phenomenon we see in South -Turkey. Densely inhabited refugee camps grow from nothing, there is no central planning. People were forced to flee Syria from horrible violence. They create a dense inhabited structure. In this region there is enough water. The place they left behind is occupied by violence and drouht. Here we see life, people make it to install their satelite dishes, and wifi connections in the camp… and try to reorganise schools, collect the garbage , keep pigeons – make gardens, all this inspite of horrible circumstances and lack of food and horrible injuries.

I ask myself: Can we   create alteratives? Scientific, ecological and artistic alternatives and artistic practice, which revives and empowers the natural self- healing methods of the society?

Three years ago, I started to work to create drawings and collect research material for imagined refugee architecture based on traditional handcraft from Northern Syria. I published on the internet on my blogs. Now I see, that people practice already, very often, self healing and self- help methods in times of crisis, simular structures, like those, which I envisioned on paper. They use already adobe . Maybe they saw my blogs, or friends told about the ideas and there was verbal circulation, more likely others had the same idea to use local material. They combine in South Turkey new and old materials, all what they find to create the shelter, they create immedietly gardens.

Can we envision urban planning and reconstruction methods, which support self- healing and create convenient infrastructure for individual efforts by small people without abonduning the claritiy and light aproach, modernism, as the pride of progress in Arab middle class housing and design?

Can we create or renew water resource, as a magnet for these new centers? The presence of water is the source of life. Here follows some utopian and artistic ideas…. some are like dream, others are useful for design solutions.




Unfinished concrete construction finished with Adobe, 2014



Small semipermeable pots of special natural material for gardens to collect waterin small watertanks under the ground. The same system is used in the big watertanks, the cysterns from Roman times. The semi permaeble layer filtered the rain water.

( my secret research  ) from 2014


Semipermeable water collectors and tanks with Nourias, gouache on japanese paper. 2014



my drawing and idea inspired by the film Desert cities  by  Aglaia Konrad.  The  ground floors are  burried with earth  or sand and used as subterrain water tanks and summer reserve.





sub terrain watertanks, left side utopian version in abandoned  apartment block’s ground floor, right side: ancient water from Roman and hellenistic times as seen in my childhood in Syria



Refugee shelter and woman carrying water, drawing, 2014



Woman carrying water  – melancholia , 2014


Róza El-Hassan, drawings were made in spring and summer 2014,  the text was written for the exhibition Revolution- Avantgarde –  Utopia,  at LUMU-  Ludwig Museum, Budapest –  October 2014  – all rights for the concepts and texts with the author


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