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Disclaimer: To construct this new plausible reality, fiction is presented or encountered as fact allowing viewers to leave in a state of “educated ignorance” with their worldviews subtly altered in truthful ways by untruths.

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This thesis uses pre-existing local phenomena to construct a near-future scenario where political systems are exploited to demonstrate the politics of aesthetics and their ability to alter a context and its existing socio-economic infrastructure. By imposing unfamiliar forms and systems, familiar aesthetics are recast to redistribute the sensible and create a new reality out of underlying social, economic, and cultural power structures. As a result, form, composition, and aesthetics can begin to operate politically to uncover hidden realities and project alternative futures.



Anchor 1

Characterized by a unique system of governance emerging from a conflicting political agenda of autocratic neoliberalism, the city of Dubai offers a lens to demonstrate the politics of aesthetics and their ability to alter a context and its existing infrastructure. Much like its regional counterparts, Dubai maintains an authoritarian system of rule that has been firmly established, and continually reinforced, throughout its history. However, in recent years, the pure autocracy that was previously synonymous with the state’s identity has yielded highly contagious neoliberal influences that control other ‘global’ cities. In Dubai, the agendas of autocratic neoliberalism extend far beyond politics, encroaching upon the responsibilities of architecture and urban planning by reordering the city into an aggregate of discrete zones - the zone of exception, the zone of labor, and the zone of excess, visibly separated by seams of landscape and infrastructure.  Each zone is governed by a differing degree of autocratic neoliberalism, resulting in palpable seams of political tension between the zones.

Anchor 2

A Near-Future Reality

In a near-future reality, the inconsistent social, economic, and cultural power structures across these zones are exploited to purge zones of exception of the violence and lawlessness associated with their current enclave form. Zones of exception migrate to the city and collide with the existing culture of material excess creating an opportunity for zones of labor to be included in the global image of the city. The collision of these hidden phenomena redirects material and labor flows to impose a new unfamiliar, highly political form which subverts familiar aesthetics to alter perceptions which redistribute the sensible, creating a plausible near-future reality where form, composition, and aesthetics operate politically to instigate change. 

Anchor 3
Anchor 4

The vertical zone acknowledges and leverages ongoing local phenomena. Rather than erasing these contextual layers, the new zone deliberately collides with them to advertise its benefits to the state and the local population. As the zone of exception is inserted into the context of excess in Dubai, it takes over one of the many incomplete, abandoned towers in the city. The clash between the existing and the new renders the zone as an aggregate across multiple resolutions. Seams of tension are generated as the old and the new collide together. The form is fractured further by seams of material; the materials themselves are aggregates. 

Anchor 5
Anchor 6

In the city, the zone must adapt to the new jurisdictional condition created as a result of overlapping administrations. The ground of the zone is forced to navigate this shift by mediating between the politics of the zone and those of the state. It does so by responding to the zone’s desire for transparency while preserving the logistics of its operations. The aesthetics of the incomplete are leveraged to allow for this transparency - the ground stages an encounter between the public and the operations of the zone. It connects the marina promenade to the city’s public transportation infrastructure. In doing so, it invites new flows of materials and labor. The vertical zone now hosts informal economies currently hidden away in the zone of labor. The operations of the zone are put in tension with the informal economies run by migrant construction workers that spill out of the building and onto the grounds of the zone.

Anchor 9
Anchor 10

Personal Effects



The middle of the vertical zone is an interior condition where the operations of the zone are made more legible. The public circulation is fragmented, making the operations of the zone more transparent to the public. The placement of the zone alters existing material flows in the city. Materials and personal effects from the city enter the zone and undergo a process of storage, repair, manufacturing, and distribution facilitated by the larger networks that the zone can now access. The zone thus provides an opportunity for low-wage migrant construction workers, who currently manage these economies informally, to tap into the larger networks of the city.

Anchor 7
Anchor 11

The new zone leverages verticality to declare its ambitions, incentives, and operations. The opaque crown that adorns the top of capitalist icons to satisfy aspirations for verticality is rejected in favor of an aperture that stages an encounter in the skyline by calibrating the local with the global. Essential services such as money exchange, telecommunication, and broadcasting are positioned at the top of the tower, making use of the incentives offered by zones of exception to provide transparency in information and uncensored communication to the public. The deliberate placement of such programs at the top of the tower draws in the public and thus opens up the zone

Anchor 8
Anchor 12

The introduction of the zone to the image of the city in this near future reality deliberately links the vertical zone to the larger networks and systems of the city that sustain it. In its effort to engage the systems of the context, the vertical zone reveals the hidden realities in the city and becomes a contradiction to current capitalist icons. It alters perception of the city and begins to demonstrate the politics of aesthetics. This aesthetic engagement redistributes the sensible to project an alternative future. 

Nashwah Ahmed

Prerit Gupta

Hidden Realities

The Politics of Aesthetics

Syracuse University School of Architecture

Undergraduate Thesis 2020

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