Interview with Abu Dhabi’s Egyptian city planner

“Plans the Earth Swallows: An Interview with Abdulrahman Makhlouf.” Interview by Todd Reisz. Portal 9 | Stories and Critical Writing about the City, Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

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Surrounded by memories of past achievements, Dr. Makhlouf stands in his conference room in Abu Dhabi, on November 6, 2012. On the upper left appears a satellite image of the emirate that has been his home since 1968. © Photograph by Ziyah Gafic.

An interview with Abdulrahman Makhlouf, Abu Dhabi’s first Egyptian city planner, sheds light on how foreign city planners meet officials and rulers of UAE and Abu Dhabi, most importantly, how architecture profession influence the imperial rule and alter the city.

 

Background of interviewer

Todd Reisz conducted the latest interview with Dr. Makhlouf in April of 2013. As an Urbanography editor for Portal 9 and the Daniel Rose Visiting Assistant Professor in Urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture, Todd Reisz has ongoing work with the architecture and urbanism of cities in the Gulf, which makes him a perfect interview to meet Abdulrahman Makhlouf, an Egyptian planner and long-time resident of Abu Dhabi.

Prior to this interview, their first encounter was in 2010, after he had seen that Dr. Makhlouf was associated with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium, one of the most beautiful buildings in the UAE. Their conversation generated a list of topics that multiplied the longer they talked.

 

The interview setting

The interview was held in Dr Makhlouf’s conference room that he converted into an exhibition of informational boards he has made over the years. The boards’ combination of text and images presented his biography: his grandfather and father, the teachers at Al Azhar, his time as a student in Germany, and his presentations of master plans on palace floors in Abu Dhabi. In addition, the conference table was covered with a grid of stacked documents, the organization of which he rigorously maintained. All this effort made it seem as if urban history were within reach.

 

Viewpoint

The interview undoubtedly is conducted under a contemporary viewpoint on old city planner, similar to listening stories from the elders. Therefore, some questions are eventually asked about the difference between the old city plan and the modern city plan of Abu Dhabi, e.g. “Are you surprised by what Abu Dhabi has become. When you came in 1968, there was a road network but not much else. And now there are towers in every direction” In general, the interview questions are very thought-through and sophisticated, which shows the interviewer’s deep understanding of the history, rulers and city planners of Abu Dhabi, and the impact that it brought about. 

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