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Staking the Land

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Kuwait-Saudi Border



Project Team:
Neeraj Bhatia, Hannah Jane Kim, Sayer Al Sayer

Client / Date of Completion:
Kuwait Pavilion — SPACEWARS, Venice Biennale 2021


The neutral zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is once again under the gaze of petroleum extraction, threatening the landscape and the rare agricultural products of this region. Oil infrastructure has often acted as a catalyst for urbanism, creating a framework that is re-appropriated for other uses in time. Consider, for instance, the TAPLINE Pipeline, which transverses the Saudi Arabian desert, and whose pump stations consist of basic amenities. Within an almost barren environment, the four main pumping stations— Qaisumah, Rafha, Badanah, and Turayf—planted the seeds for new urban settlements within the desert. During construction of the TAPLINE, more than 16,000 workers were employed and largely housed adjacent to the four pumping stations. These nodes were the seeds for eventual settlements. In Kuwait, the Burgan and Umm Ghudair oil fields played a similar role in spurring the urban development of nearby Ahmadi – transforming it from desert to company town to city. Despite Kuwait’s relatively smaller size to Saudi Arabia, Ahmadi and the Kuwait Oil Company witnessed the influx of over 14,000 personnel in their company housing, a settlement that would later inform suburban developments across the city-state.

Before this period, settlement patterns in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were largely determined by ecological factors such as watershed areas and availability of fertile agricultural land. Between 1940 and 1970, there was a paradigm shift in settlement patterns across the region, which was heavily influenced by oil infrastructure. This was primarily due to the associated infrastructures that accompanied the operations, consisting of a roadway, water wells and piping, and maintenance staff. Instead of oil infrastructure catalysing urbanism, can these basic amenities be enough to situate people on the land?

We contend that the most vital component to resist oil extraction in the neutral zone is to bond people to the land. Already in the desert by Al Wafrah, temporary settlements of campers and buggies provide obstacles for the oil industry. The proposal uses a grid of micro-diffused infrastructures—from small towers for migrant labourers that tap into the aquifer below, to well extraction points, to moments of solar energy harvesting, to areas to stake nomadic shelters to the land—as devices to situate people in the land and form a diffused resistance. Between these points, agricultural development is proposed to produce different forms of value on the land. Ultimately, Architecture and infrastructures are used in tandem to “stake” and “stake out” the land, forming the catalyst for occupation.