• Kunstverein Hamburg Studio Miessen


Winter School Middle East

Dubai & Kuwait
Zahra Ali Baba / Markus Miessen
Type: Infrastructure

Winterschool sessions of 2007,2008, and 2010 developed in collaboration with the Architectural Association, London

Winterschool Middle East

  • Winterschool Middle East concept devised by Markus Miessen
  • Kuwait (2010) Winterschool directed by: Markus Miessen & Zahra Ali Baba
  • Dubai (2008, 2007) Winterschool directed by: Markus Miessen
  • Photography by: Joseph Grima, Markus Miessen and Elian Stefa
  • Project leaders: Antonia Carver, Alessandro Petti, November Paynter, Can Altay, Kyong Park, Charles Merewether, Yazid Anani, Ingo Niermann, George Katodrytis, Sunny Rahbar, Zak Kyes, Aaron Levy, Bassam El Baroni, Makram el Kadi, Mathieu Wellner, Nina Möntmann, Ali Al-Khaled, Anh-Linh Ngo, Armin Linke, Hessa Al-Sowaidan, Joseph Grima, Kenny Cupers, Magnus Nilsson, Nikolaus Hirsch, Patricia Reed, and Ralf Pflugfelder.
  • Graphic Design: Zak Kyes

The Winter School Middle East is a localized, small-scale hub, which regularly performs cultural and educational activities in collaboration with local NGOs, schools, and individuals, and – through its new, long-term presence – houses a critical platform for exchange. Being launched as an idea in 2007, the Winter School Middle East was set up as a roaming, mobile institution that has undertaken a series of workshops, seminars, mini-schools and conferences since its inception in January 2008: ‘“Learning from Dubai’” (2008, Dubai), dealing with the Labour Housing issue, and ‘Spaces and Scales of Knowledge’ (2009, Dubai), dealing with the question of institution building, both in collaboration with the Architectural Association (London), The Third Line gallery (Dubai), and the American University of Sharjah. In 2010, the Winter School moved to Kuwait for a longer-term involvement and local engagement regarding the setting up of a platform for critical exchange.

Combining the Winter School’’s workshop methodology with local initiatives, this intensive workshop-based programme was and continues to be run as a design- and discourse-led curriculum that combines conceptual and spatial research in the process of radical criticism and the rigorous production of ideas. Students and staff work in teams of up to ten in which they develop individual and group projects. These projects will be tested against the criticism of the group, but also against the knowledge and expertise of local protagonists. Each tutor-led unit investigates different aspects of the (emerging) spatial realities of the Gulf region, with a strong local and site(location)-specific focus.

Instead of presenting a set of self-referential objects, it addressed excessive urban development, pollution, unilateral politics, and the misuse, abuse and exhaustion of natural resources. It seems that, here, artistic and spatial practices manage and assume responsibility regarding that what politics is often incapable of: outright critique.

When the Winter School was originally set up in Dubai, the driving force was clear: to establish a model for localized education, which would set itself clearly apart from the US-model of franchised campuses, one, in which major US universities started up major satellite campuses in the Middle East. This model was based on the post-9/11 reality that many Middle Easter families would no longer send their kids to the US, hence creating a serious financial lack within the administrative structures of the universities. As a result, some of those decided to bring the campuses where the money is. However, as they simply wanted to replicate the source campuses, also the outsourced campuses were and still are often staffed with professors from the US, who neither know anything about the region, nor build up any long-term local knowledge as they tend to be on short-term rolling contracts. The dilemma is clear: the UFO has landed but does not really engage locally.

The Winter School instead aims to generate local knowledge with individuals and groups from the urban area, region and wider region that it situates itself in. Vis-a-vis the US model, the Winter School attempts to generate knowledge with locals for the locale toolboxes that will remain within the region and are specific to the context in which they are situated.

In 2010, the Winter School is moving from Dubai to Kuwait. In addition to the geographical move, the new setting and ambition in Kuwait is also different and more ambitious, as the model in Kuwait aims both for a longer-term engagement as well as a specific place in which the School will build up a small institution and platform for local exchange. This ambition regarding a visible and permanent local responsibility in terms of informal education further intends to generate a turf for the concept and reality of consequence when approaching a space for education, support, and discourse.

Kuwait is of particular interest: tongue-in-cheek, it could be described as the most socialist capitalist system that exists globally, with a democratically elected parliament, a benevolent ruler, free education, healthcare and housing. The political and cultural environment in Kuwait, other than in Dubai, is very liberal in regards to open discussion, with a tradition in platforms such as ‘Dewaniya’: a space typology for political exchange. An open society driven by an ‘overdemocratisation’, the country is known for its vibrant society, in which all parliamentarians think of themselves as the prime minister, and everyone else – in the most positive sense of civil society – owns a non-expert expertise. Compared to Dubai, Kuwait has also been highly urbanized since the 1930. This combination of liberalism and open politics on the one hand presents an interesting starting point, but when it comes to public discursive formats of education, Kuwait is only making use of classical and formalized formats, such as the centralized university. When it comes to education, especially from the point of view of spatial practices, urbanism, and discourse, there is very little attention being spent besides the formal and mostly outsourced planning of cities, as well as classical architecture, mainly operated from within the discipline of engineering. So far, there has neither been an attempt to come to terms with alternative urban development, the serious outlining of problematic realities, and/or transparency in planning processes. There is an increasing need for the stipulation, development and growth of a local expertise beyond classical Western notion of urbanism, one that uses the specificities of the local context in order to generate new types of spatial practice. As Kuwait is not at all as consumed and exhausted as Dubai, the serious mistakes of the emirate can still be avoided.

The Winter School, through its diverse practices and activities, aims to address critical issues such as territorial politics, environment and education, urban research and the fostering of open and conflictual exchange in the decision-making processes of urban, socio-political topics.

Compared to the earlier Winter Schools, the one in Kuwait will consist of two major components:

(1) Annual gathering: workshop, seminars, and conference in January 2011;

(2) Permanent presence: a longer-term institutional affiliation through a newly built small platform, which will serve as the basis for an ongoing programme and local exchange throughout the year, curated by Markus Miessen in collaboration with Zahra Ali Baba.