Dubai: Re-Designing Labor Worker Communities

Can Cakmak

Thesis Advisers: Jonathan Massey, Anne Englot

Description/Abstract

In an effort to provide humane living conditions for immigrant workers in Dubai who are trapped in the flawed immigration system, I will design a ‘worker community ’ to replace the ‘ labor camps’ where workers live today. These communities will be tested at a variety of levels, from planning, infrastructure, modularity to materiality; and while certain elements such as planning will play a much more significant role than, for example, infrastructure, the goal will be to generate a worker community which will provide necessar y amenities and act as a temporar y city - immediately next to the construction site. The immigration of workers from overseas into Dubai is an overlooked humanitarian issue; from the moment they are deceived into an idealized lifestyle, to their day to day living/working conditions once they arrive in Dubai, all the way to the deprivation of their rights as humans. Dubai and almost all other GCC countries have a shameful way of luring uneducated foreigners into their countries as immigrants, and treating them as modern day slaves. Companies and individual citizens control immigrants by enforcing the Kafala sponsorship system, and waive international guidelines and rights set by organizations such as the International Labor Organization. 1 While an issue such as the Kafala system is just one of many facets of the overall situation, this thesis will focus on the impact architecture can have to improve the lives of the South Asian labor force behind the luxurious facade of Dubai. Most labor camps where construction workers live today exist as a rentable development designed for profit and lacking basic living amenities. In order to raise the standard of living of the workers, this thesis will propose a redesign of the labor camps into worker communities, which will be located immediately next to the construction site. The community will include amenities and public spaces, which will be built up of modular typologies based on workers’ temporalities and needs. The structures will be built primarily out of compressed earth bricks, as they have proven to be an efficient building material in climates such as Dubai. The redesigned communities will act as temporar y cities near the construction site. Once the construction project is over and labor workers relocate, the worker community will be disassembled. The compressed earth bricks will either be reused in a new project, or will be recycled back to the earth. If a worker community is situated in a location where no new projects are taking place, the structures which were once home to labor workers will be modified, and converted into low income housing. These low income houses will be put on the market to be rented by a certain employee class such as cashier, janitors, waiters, etc. The compressed earth bricks will play a large role in both the disassembly of the worker communities, or their eventual conversion into low income housing.