"Monuments to Maritime Labor: the Dhow, Migration, and the Architecture of the 2022 Qatar World Cup"

Laura Diamond Dixit
The Avery Review, No. 3, November 2014

Except from the text:

"The form of the floating dhows, as it happens, inspired the architecture of World Cup stadia from the start of the design process. When Albert Speer & Partner prepared Qatar’s World Cup bid, their proposal included an animation that opens with a view looking up toward a dhow mast. With a slow pan downward, the lower portion of the boat becomes visible in the foreground and as the dhow gently bobs up and down in the waves, the view shifts to what is behind the boat—Al-Shamal Stadium. From the water, the geometry of the façade closely mimics the body of the boat and the varied hues of the stadium’s façade look like the wooden dhow planks that were sourced from inland forests in the Indian or African hinterlands of the Indian Ocean. After multiple pans around the stadium from a position on land, the animation settles on an aerial view, with both Al-Shamal and the dhows in the shallow waters offshore in the frame. The upturned corner of the white stadium roof is another reference to the dhow, but instead of looking to the body of the boat, the roof alludes to the triangular shape of the dhow’s distinctive lanteen sail.

After the first minute of the animation, there is no doubt that the World Cup is symbolically linked to Qatar’s maritime history and location on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Looking more closely at the dhows from the side and overhead views, however, reveals something curious—there are no people in the rendered boats. There are people on land, walking toward the stadium and partially filling its seats, but the dhows appear to steer themselves, with a ghost crew that has been excised from the oceanic imagery. The World Cup architecture has therefore socially hollowed out the dhow by breaking it from its labor histories, presenting the forms of the sails and planks as an unpeopled fantasy of the past. 

In this fantasy, the histories of the laborers who cut trees in the forests along the western coasts of India and Africa, built boats along the shorelines, or shipped the timber to Gulf boatyards, sewed planks, and sailed vast distances from Africa to India and even to China are forgotten. These histories can, however, be read into Speer’s Al-Shamal and Zaha Hadid’s Al-Wakrah Stadium, which also takes the form of the dhow. Hadid’s Stadium, which will actually be built (unlike Speer’s proposal), is an even more idealized form of the dhow. In a rendering of the stadium, there is no visible coastline. The dhow is now entirely on land and there are no planks, only curved lines, which suggest billowing sails. By removing the references to the lanteen sail, the Al-Wakrah Stadium becomes only a generalized version of the dhow, without any of the specificities that distinguished different types of dhows according to their functions and where they sailed.

The lack of these geographical identifiers makes Al-Wakrah Stadium even more of a transnational form. The idea of the dhow and not the specificity of the dhow is what is monumentalized, and fundamental to this idea is the cross-cultural exchanges between the Gulf, Africa, India, and China that came from hundreds, if not thousands, of years of maritime travel. The transcultural form cannot be separated from the juridical processes that have governed migration and labor in this region as well as the histories of the labor practices. Hadid has famously claimed that “it’s not my duty as an architect” to think about labor—but the labor histories associated with the dhow can be projected back into the architectural form she has given us. In doing so, Al-Wakrah and Al-Shamal become monuments to a long history of maritime labor—unwittingly reinscribing the presence of those workers within the iconic imagery of the 2022 World Cup."

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