The Shame of 9/11

Ten years have passed since 9/11 and I still have trouble watching those news clips the media likes to replay over and over again of that fateful day in 2001. It's still painful. And I thankfully, did not lose any of my friends who worked in the Twin Towers or surrounding areas. I was safely at work in midtown Manhattan when the planes hit. I remember for days after, the lighter debris from the World Trade Center's fallen towers would blow onto my street in Brooklyn and if the wind was blowing was east or north there was an unnerving stench in the air.
One image I cannot get out of my mind from that day, is the sight of the endless stream of firefighters entering the burning buildings. I remember the look on their faces of both hope and despair. They were bravely mobilized to search and save human life while knowing full well that they were sacrificing their own. On that day 343 New York firefighters, 15 EMTs lost their lives. Two thousand other first responders were injured. But in the process they assisted 16,000 people evacuate the collapsing buildings.

In the weeks after, thousands of first responders with inadequate protection and equipment spent endless hours digging through the mountain of ruble in search of life and human remains.

These men and women represent to me the best of humanity and should be celebrated and rewarded. They definitely deserve much better than the politicians who run this country.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pressured by the White House made the inane announcement promptly after the collapse of the buildings that despite all the dust and fumes and air contaminated with 24,000 gallons of jet fuel, glass, asbestos, cement, lead and other toxins was within healthy limits and that clean up should continue and that NY residents should resume to their activities downtown.
Inevitably, within 48 hours of working on the site after the attack, 90% of New York City firefighters complained of cough symptoms. Ten years later, we now know that not only did inhaling this air cause coughing, it is also caused asthma, gastrointestinal problems, scars on the lungs and significant increase in cancer amongst first responders. So instead of rewards and recognition, thousands of this nation's first responders were faced with failing health, loss of employment due to illness, bankrupting medical bills and death.

Finally in 2006, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was introduced to fund treatment programs and provide compensation funds to those who suffered physical harm or death in the World Trade Center attacks. But the bill did not pass. Nine years after the attacks in 2010, a revised bill was introduced with a lesser financial cost that excluded cancer from the list of illnesses covered in the legislation. This was the Democratic party's compromise in the hopes of attaining Republican support for the bill. This is despite studies from the Lancet Medical Journal that stated that those exposed to substances at Ground Zero were 19% more likely to develop cancer than those not exposed. This ridiculous exclusion has left nearly 10,000 Fire Department personnel little alternative to spend their life savings to pay for their medical treatment, if they could even afford it.

In the latter half of 2010 when the legislation was up for vote again, it became known that the Republican party planned to filibuster the revised bill citing that the $4.3 billion dollar price tag was still too high. (Although, they do not seem to have any problems funding $1.649 trillion for two wars or spending $1.2 trillion to bailout the financial industry.*)

It was not until comedian John Stewart started highlighting this legislation and all the political drama around it on his show, that prompted public outrage which finally resulted in the passage of the bill in December 2010 - more than nine years after the first health problems amongst the first responders became evident. However, since the bill still excludes cancer from any funding or support, the battle for many of the first responders still continues.

U.S. politicians so frequently cite 9/11 when it suits their political aims but when it comes to actually helping those, who so selflessly helped and saved so many on that horrible day, their interest in the attacks seems to shift. John Stewart described this fiasco best when he called it a 'national shame,' and the senators responsible for blocking this bill the 'worst responders.'

The attacks on 9/11 remains a painful moment in this country's history. It is appalling that the leadership of this country made it a much darker, more painful stain in the nation's memory.



In Shock and Awe of Japan

A few months ago, I was on the shinkansen going from Tokyo to Kyoto. The bullet train was relatively full, but most of the passengers with their heads bowed were quietly busying themselves with their meals, their mobile phones, computers or reading material. The train conductor gently slid the door open came into our car. But before he started to check tickets, he bowed to all the passengers in that specific car. Nobody was really paying any attention, only perhaps my mother and me. After thanking each passenger and checking each ticket, before he moved on to the next car, with all our backs facing him, he bowed again.

When we were in Kyoto, we took quite a few of the buses to get around the city and almost every time, no matter what bus, no matter who the driver was, the bus driver thanked every single passenger as they got off the bus. Sometimes thirty people got off the bus at once. The bus driver barely took a breath.

While in Tokyo, my husband and I walked in a 7-Eleven convenient store in Shinjuku. It was rush hour and the store was packed with people picking up dinner, snacks, a coffee or a magazine for the long train ride home. We picked up two bottles of water. The enthusiasm with which the convenience store clerk greeted us, packaged our water and thanked us for this 'tremendous' purchase, was absolutely unparalleled for us. Although, not so unusual in Japan.

It didn't matter what the job was, how inspiring or how mundane, each and everyone for the most part did it with extreme pride and enthusiasm. It seemed that every job was the most important job in the world and their lives depended on it.

A week after the one of the most horrendous natural disasters to hit Japan, you see that same professional honor and pride amongst those tireless anonymous workers in the nuclear plant in Fukushima bravely risking their lives, in the hopes of saving the lives of many millions.

Watching the news unfold, many miles away in Southern California, I can't help but feel that the Japanese people definitely deserve better government leadership and better executives from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to lead, help and guide them through this three headed disaster. But what is incredible about the Japanese, is that no one seems to be sitting around indulging much of any time in self-pity. Although, no one would blame them with thousands dead and miles of endless destruction. Instead, what we see are news articles upon articles in the global media describing the patience, resilience and mutual respect of the Japanese -waiting hours in line at barely stocked supermarkets to pick up their ten allotted items to feed their families. There is no pushing, no looting, no theft. And honestly, these are dire times.

**House lot at sea - Image taken by the US Navy Photo by Dylan McCord

The Japanese people are not waiting for their government or the world to come save them - they are going to do it for themselves and each other. I read a story about how an elderly woman trapped under her own house, apologized to the rescue workers for being such an inconvenience and questioning them, that surely there had to be other people out there who might need their assistance more pressingly. I saw TV reports of neighbors in the Sendai area, who fared a little better from the earthquake and tsunami, pool together their resources to make miso soup and rice balls to feed those in the shelters who were left with nothing. The residents of the areas hardest hit are collecting snow in the hills and mountains and boiling them for water; and making chopsticks out of the bamboo they have collected. Neighbors are helping each other to clean the layers of mud from their homes, restoring their lives little by little. Stories like these are endless. I know, because I have been glued to every report on Japan in print, on TV and on my computer. The Japanese people refuse to be victims. They are not waiting for any handouts.

There is a quote that says that you know the true character of a friend are when you are in need. Well, I think the same can be said for a society. You know the true measure of a society, when all hell has broken lose and their survival is at stake and they can still manage to keep their dignity, honor and humanity intact.

I bow to you Japan.


What an incredible day in history

In honor of the courageous people of Egypt who accomplished the impossible with only the strength of their will and their hopes and dreams of a better future....

Celebratory fireworks over Tahrir Square
*Felipe Trueba/European Pressphoto Agency
(Image taken from the NYT)

"I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him [...] I'm talking on behalf of Egypt. [...] This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started [...] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I've always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet. "
- Activist Wael Ghonim

"We are one." - Egyptian Muslim and Christian Pro-Democracy Demonstrators

"President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down and has handed power to the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces." - Omar Suleiman (February 11, 2011, just after 6PM Cairo time)

"Egypt is free!" - Protestors

"We have been able to restore our humanity ... to be free and independent." - Mohamed ElBaradei

"Now, we can breathe fresh air, we can feel our freedom." - Dr. Gamal Heshamt

"The greatest day in Egyptian history." - Ayman Nour

"The word tahrir means liberation. It speaks in our soul that cries out for freedom and for evermore will remind us of the Egyptian people. What they did, the things they stood for and how they changed their country and in doing so changed the world." - President Barack Obama


"Each time a person stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." - Robert F. Kennedy (1925 –1968)

Sout Al Horeya (The Sound of Freedom)

**For a translation of the song click on the red cc button on the bottom of the screen.


Hope out of Darkness

For the past ten days, I have been glued to the television and the internet, soaking up every update on the pro-democracy protesters in Egypt. (More power to them)! When the violence started, it was heartbreaking. As a self proclaimed global citizen, I know that humans are not so different regardless of geography or location. If we push aside politics and the politicians and the small group of religious freaks and fanatics, we all want the same things - peace, freedom, opportunities, nourishment, equality. This image that has gone viral below reinforces that. Taken by an anonymous photographer, it apparently shows a group of Christian Egyptians forming a human shield in Tahrir Square (the epicenter of the Egyptian pro-democracy protests) so that their Muslim countrymen can say their prayers peaceably amidst the violence and chaos yesterday.

When the worst of humanity came to the forefront with the state sponsored thugs, out rises the best of humanity. Purity and beauty in the middle of such horror. It gives me hope....



There are certain cities in the world that you can never leave. You may physically leave, but you know that there is something in your heart and your soul that has changed forever. Perhaps there is an irretrievable part of you that you have left behind. Or there is a part of the city that you take with you always. It has incorporated itself into your DNA.

For me to experience this feeling, it needs to be a tremendous, complex, encompassing city. It is a city that nourishes as much as it takes away. It is a city that only very slowly reveals itself to you. Little by little. Always leaving you longing, searching. It is a city that in some ways can present itself as so simple and obvious and yet at the same time be so richly layered and intricate. The relationship with such a city, is much like a mysterious, intoxicating, heady love affair.

For me, Tokyo is such a city. Maybe, it is because I grew up in this city. Or because when I lived there, I was young and willingly vulnerable and open.

It had been years since I left Tokyo in my late teens. So much distance had passed, that even though I often reminisced of the life, the food, the experiences that I had, the depth of my feelings had dulled. Then this past November, I went back for just a brief five days. Barely enough for even a quick taste, but just enough to trigger the rush of all the emotions I once felt. The smell of the air. The deep purplish blue hue of the sky at dusk, just when all the neon signs and buildings are suddenly lit. The overwhelming feeling of infinite possibilities. The orange glow of Tokyo Tower against the evening sky. The young couple walking hand in hand oblivious to all the hustle and bustle around them. The energy and excitement bubbles over. Today you may discover something new and wonderful.... Or you may simply find yourself enwrapped by the comfort of something very familiar.

It's a dismal, melancholy day in Los Angeles today. Mist and endless drizzle have saturated the air with a cold dampness. The gray sky feels alien and barren. I stare out the window of my apartment wistfully lost in my memories of Tokyo, full of longing and ache, but I cannot or would not want any other way.

Midtown - Roppongi

Issey Miyake and Tadao Ando's collaboration
21_21 Design Sight

Takashi Kuribayashi's Wald aus Wald Installation (2010) at Mori Museum, Roppongi

Buri - Standing Sake Bar in Ebisu

Yakitori-ya in Azabu Juban
Tempura and handmade soba in Mitsukoshi (12th Floor), Ginza

Tsukiji Fish Market at dawn


Fantasy and Reality Blur in Anime Obsessed Japan

As a woman who has had almost equal exposure to Asian and Western cultures, I have always had a fascination with how women, beauty and sex appeal have been interpreted, developed and depicted in various cultures.

Salesgirls in a department store in Osaka
Obviously, various countries around the world depending on the strength of the global media, have differing perceptions of what an 'ideal' woman should look like. In countries like Mauritania and some islands in the South Pacific, the more robust and plump woman is seen as beautiful. In Mauritania, young girls are secluded and sometimes forcibly fattened up to make them more eligible for marriage. Conversely, in western countries, the fashion industry, the media and the ease of creating computer modified images have idealized an often unattainable and unhealthy skinny body. Models and actresses are often pressured to diet down to minuscule sizes. In China, the offices of plastic surgeons are filled with people who want more Caucasian features - as some view that as the epitome of beauty. And in Iran, nose jobs are a status symbol and a temporary cure for a boredom.

Now with the prevalence and accessibility of internet pornography, there has been plenty research done of late of some men preferring the company of a digitized women online to maintaining a relationship with a real life woman. Unlike the women depicted in the video scenarios, a real life woman might have her own ideas about how she is portrayed or treated. Unfortunately, (in my opinion), you see rising numbers of women (I do live in Los Angeles) desperate to increase their desirability factor by cutting their bodies and augmenting their breasts and hips in the hopes of competing with those online images. Plastic surgery in California is a booming business.

Up until now, I thought that was as bizarre and extreme as it got for women trying to transform their looks to attain that ever elusive image of perfection and beauty.

Then I went to Japan.

So earlier this month, I returned to Japan after a gap of about 17 years and I noticed a bizarre trend amongst teens and young Japanese women. Having grown up in Tokyo, I can tell you that anime is a big deal in Japan. It is very pervasive part of the entertainment and culture. Grown men and on occasionally women voraciously read comic books or mangas or watch the cartoons on TV or in the movie theaters. Now that mangas have gone global, most people already know, the female characters depicted in these comics often have unnaturally curvaceous figures, delicate noses and mouths with extremely large sparkly eyes.
A month or so before my trip to japan, I watched a segment on NHK a Japanese TV station on the popularity on this video game by Nintendo DS called "Love Plus." Love Plus which was released in September last year only in Japan, is a simulated dating game that you would play on a hand held video console. Since its release apparently, this 'game' has gained extreme popularity. The player (ie the man) selects their anime girlfriend from a handful of cartoon college students. Then simulating the trajectory of any relationship, the 'girlfriend' may start off being a little shy and reserved but over the course of a series of dates and trips taken together, she becomes more open and connected. The specific segment that I watched on NHK was about how the seaside town of Atami, taking advantage of the popularity of this game partnered with Konami Digital Entertainment, the creators of the game, to offer a special tour for men and their Love Plus girlfriends. Huge tour buses packed with men and their hand held video console were brought to specific tourist sites, where the men would scan a specific bar code attached to the site and the anime girlfriend would simultaneously 'see' and comment on the experience of the same sites. These men could then take pictures together with their anime girlfriend either in the form of the hand held console or a computer generated life size image (see below). At the end of the day, the men checked into the prescribed hotel with their anime girlfriend. Scanning another barcode at the hotel, the video game would then show the anime girlfriend in the exact hotel room surroundings.
Image from AFP

When doing some additional reading for this post, I came across a story about a Japanese college student who married his Love Plus girlfriend. Publicity stunt or not - that event took a lot of time and effort to organize. (See the video below).

Now as bizarre and dysfunctional as this game/obsession/relationship was to me, I didn't think much of it until I went to Japan. After all growing up in Japan, you get used to seeing some unusual things.

When I was perusing a few guide books in preparation for my trip back to Japan, I read about the growth of an even more pervasive obsession with anime. So based on a few write-ups, I decided to visit the Akihabara district of Tokyo. Akihabara is the electronics/technology area of Tokyo. I used to go, to check out new gadgets and when I wanted to buy some new electronics . There aren't many places in the world that can rival Japan in electronics and technology. However recently, Akihabara has also become a sort of anime district for the geeky techie. There are coffee shops and restaurants with anime themes and women dressed in specific anime costumes - like the Maid Cafe - where cute young women, dress up as anime milk maids. Interspersed amongst these coffee shops are stores that sell a huge variety of anime clothing, gadgets and other paraphernalia. Anime has leapt off the television screen and has crossed over into reality. Neighborhoods with anime coffee shops and stores and tourism packages for men and their Love Plus girlfriends are blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

And now anime has now also crossed another boundary and is influencing how young Japanese women perceive their own beauty and fashion. After all, how do you get a guy's attention when he is in love with a cartoon?

I first noticed it in Tokyo and then in Osaka. I would do a double take when women with their generous curls of dyed blond or light brown hair would walk past. Not because of their hair but because of their unusually large eyes. I started to notice that many of these young women seemed to have that additional eyelid crease, which you normally don't see on east Asian women. Many of these women with the light brown or blond hair had heavily highlighted their eyes with thick black liner, layers of fake eyelashes and heavy mascara. When I talked to my sister about this observation, she has suggested an idealization of Caucasian women, which may have been the case, if not for the attempts to make their eyes extra extra large.
Another day, I wandered through Shibuya's 109 department store, the mecca for cutting edge fashion for young Japanese women. It was Saturday and the place was packed with girls and young women, many of them with their luscious blond locks and big bright sparkly eyes, purchasing just the right attire to add to their very stylized look. It was then it hit me. Thinking back to the NHK segment I watched on the popularity of Love Plus, and the anime coffee shops I saw in Akihabara, I concluded that perhaps young Japanese women are trying to look like anime characters to increase their sex appeal. Have Japanese men become so obsessed with anime that Japanese women feel they need to look like a cartoon character to be attract attention?

Women's magazine with pointers on how to enlarge ones eyes
Well, I don't really know the answer to that. All I do know it that this has become a huge industry in Japan and possibly some of its neighboring countries. A company in Korea called Geo, manufactures extra wide contact lenses to make your iris and your eyes just that much larger. And just like anime characters, you can get lenses in different colors with stars and sparkles.

I also found mountains of magazines in a bookstores, offering step by step guidelines on how to make your eyes that much larger with make-up and other tools. Much of the advertising geared towards these young women have these anime-like women as models.
Mascara for that anime eye look
There are also photo booths all over the place, which you go into with your boyfriend or your girlfriends which enlarge and/or color your eyes when the pictures are printed. My Caucasian husband and I went into one such booths to test it out when we were at Namba Park in Osaka and we both ended up with large bug eyes in our series of photographs.
I should say that this is my analysis after only a brief trip to Japan. I acknowledge, that I don't know for a fact what prompted this new look and why exactly it is so popular. I just wonder when, if ever, women will stop treating their faces and bodies like they were made of clay. Now, I enjoy watching the occasional anime television series or movie, but as an adult, I prefer it stay in the realm of fantasy. Call me crazy, but I like my friends and partner to be of the human variety. And if their eyes are sparkling, it is because they are happy to see me and not because they have stars and fireworks drawn onto their extra large irises.


Business & Tourism Trumps Dictatorship with the Rise of Libya

***March 7, 2011***
When I first wrote this post many months ago, I would have never anticipated what would transpire in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya. And now I watch in horror at the violence that Muammar Gaddafi has inflicted on his people in his desperate and delusional attempts to retain power for him and his family. It has become very apparent of late, that for Gaddafi dictatorship and tyranny trumps all in Libya.

Ever since Gaddafi renounced his program for weapons of mass destruction, he had become a darling of the west. Suddenly his record for human rights violations all got swept under the rug. Likewise, all the crimes that Hosni Mubarak committed against his people were conveniently overlooked in the west and by his partner countries in the region in exchange for his cooperation.

I read an article recently on Al Jazeera, questioning why this string of revolutions across the Middle East came at a complete surprise to the western media. The reporters of Al Jazeera claimed that for anyone covering the streets of the Middle East, this frustration and revolutionary spirit was very apparently bubbling over. Perhaps if the western media actually covered what was happening in the Middle East instead of the preference of sensationalizing so much of the news, we would have a much more holistic and grounded understanding of not only what is happening in this diverse and complex region but also of its people.

Now back to my original article...


It has almost been a year since its neighboring Gulf state Abu Dhabi bailed out Dubai with a $10 billion loan to stem Dubai's potential sudden and steep decline. As Dubai continues to slowly repair and regain its strength after the powerful burst of its real estate bubble and the lingering effects of the global recession, its once slumbering neighbors are percolating, their economies and built environment growing steadily. Dubai's meteoric rise from a small desert oasis to leading global city and tourist destination awoke numerous Middle Eastern countries and city-states to consider their own potential as a global center. Dubai effectively demonstrated what a vision, single-minded leadership, global branding strategies and a little oil and gas reserves could accomplish. For the past few years now Dubai's immediate neighbors, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait have been carefully scrutinizing, modifying and implementing similar strategies - hoping for their own revival and global economic success. And for the most part, the world has taken note. There is another country however, a little further west, on the African continent that no doubt has also been inspired by Dubai's example, but is still operating amazingly enough, just under the global radar - Libya.

For the most part, what the world knows of Libya has been its ties to terrorist activities in the 1980s and the bizarre and violent antics of its leader Muammar al Gaddafi. However, since 2003, under the persuasion of Muammar Gaddafi's London School of Economics educated son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Libya has been working hard to restore its relationship with the rest of the world. Libya abandoned its nuclear and WMD program and paid out US$3 billion to the victims of Pan Am flight 103 and UTA flight 722. In 2004, the United States finally removed all remaining sanctions and re-established normal diplomatic relations. Soon after that, most of the companies that were already eyeing Libya's rich petroleum reserves jumped in. (When I worked for global architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 2000 our weekly business development meetings on the Middle East already included reviews of Libya, while we awaited the normalization of its relationship with the United States).

Since then much has changed in Libya. Huge billboards advertising the latest, hottest real estate developments line the main streets of Tripoli and surrounding towns. For the past few years, while the world's strongest economies have stumbled, Libya's GDP has grown at an average rate of 6%. Earlier this year, Libya opened its stock exchange to foreign investors. Italy's bank UniCredit was recently awarded the first international license to operate in Libya. Over the next ten years, the Libyan government anticipates spending US$500 billion in urban construction projects.
New hotels and commercial high rises along Tripoli's central business district
Many of the initial projects have focused rightly on improvements and expansion in infrastructure, housing and university developments. Architecture and engineering giant AECOM is currently overseeing an US$80 billion project to build 160,000 housing units throughout the country. One quarter of which will be in Benghazi, the second largest city in Libya. AECOM is also laying new sewage pipes, electrical lines and paving roads. Water sanitation, perhaps not so sexy, but direly necessary has also been a priority. Daewoo Motor Sales of South Korea, Italy's Impregilo Lidco, Singapore's Hyflux and India's Punj Lloyd have all signed huge contracts to build networks for drinking water, sewage and storm water.
Eternal Crescent of Tripoli (ECOT) Hotel - one of the many new hotels under construction
Other huge infrastructure projects simultaneously underway include the introduction of 4G wireless services into the country, a joint venture with Russia's Technoprom export and the Libya African Investment Portfolio (LIP) for power projects all over Africa including 400 kV transmission lines in Libya, and the foresightful construction of a high speed rail link along the Mediterranean coast from Sirte to Benghazi - a distance of 550 km. That contract of 2.2 billion euros was awarded to Russian Railways. Two even larger rail routes have been awarded to China Railway Construction Corporation and there is even talk of future trains traveling across Libya from Tunisia to Egypt.

New universities are also underway. New Jersey's Hill International has been hired to manage the design and pre-construction of twenty-seven new university campuses. At the end of 2009, Seventh of April Technological University Campus in Zuwarah received its final go ahead with the appointment of architecture firms IAD and Cottrell & Michelangeli and engineering firm ARUP. The thirteen building, ninety hectare campus will have a special emphasis on environmental sustainability and will be powered by solar energy. The buildings will also be designed for optimum solar and thermal control. This boom of university construction aside from being a necessary development to compete in the 21st century, is also a tremendous symbolic move on the part of the government. April 7th, 1976 the university's namesake marked the day Gaddafi's supporters violently broke up peaceful student demonstrations protesting human rights violations perpetrated by Gaddafi's military. For years after, students and other government opponents were hung in public on the anniversary of that day. The development of these universities all over Libya are therefore a powerful symbol of a government attempting to alter course and move forward.
Model of the Seventh of April Technological University Campus, Zuwarah
There are also ambitious plans to turn Tripoli into the region's financial hub by 2012. Gaddafi's son also plans to make Libya "the Vienna of North Africa," citing his favorite European city. Office towers and luxury hotels are rapidly being built. Turkey's EMSAS Construction is building Bab Tripoli Complex, a US$1.3 billion luxury high rise complex along the road to the city's airport. This project will contain 2,000 apartments, office space, a hospital, and a giant mall with an ice-skating rink and bowling alley. Presently, there is only one five star hotel in Libya - Corinthia Bab Africa. However, several hotels currently under construction will be completed by 2012 increasing room capacity to 2500. Direly needed established international brands such as Radisson, InterContinental, Sheraton, Marriot and Movenpick have also recently been drawn to Libya's potential as a future tourist destination with its lush Mediterranean beaches and its abundant Roman ruins.

Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ), one of the largest UK architecture firms practicing in the United Arab Emirates has also recently set up offices in Libya while working on the interior design for 'seven star' Tower 69 hotel in Tripoli (following the example of Dubai's self proclaimed seven star Burj al Arab no doubt). GAJ was also more recently commissioned to design a large mixed use master plan in Tripoli which would include commercial, retail, hotel and residential accommodations in addition to a retail street. They have also been asked to explore restoring and refurbishing parts of the historic Medina.
Tower 69
The Libyan government has also invested US$5 billion in improving capacity at their airports and building up their airlines. Turkish firm TAV Construction in conjunction with Athens based Consolidated Contractors Co. are working to revamp Tripoli's international airport. This project to be completed by next March will include two terminals that will be able handle 20 million passengers annually. The Libyan government is hoping to see a significant rise in tourism by 2020.

If not already miraculous how any one country can sustain this much development at one time, London based Edward Cullinan Architects have also been commissioned by the Libyan government to develop a master plan for a new carbon neutral city called Madinat Hadaek Shahat to be located in the country's Green Mountains in northern Libya a few kilometers south of the ancient Greek city of Cyrene, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This 1500-hectare mixed use development will include homes for 60,000 people, schools and a botanical garden.

Despite all these impressive projects, development in Libya still has its hiccups and bumps. The use of credit cards is practically non-existent. Any development still does not proceed without the blessing of Muammar Gaddafi apparently. But for the most part, from what I have read, the development strategy while still somewhat haphazard seems sound. It lacks the over the top, superfluous developments that got Dubai into financial, environmental and urban planning trouble. Libya has instead focused on first building up their infrastructure, their sewage, water and power supplies, their roads, transport, and housing and universities for locals (which are direly necessary since unemployment remains around 30% and youth make up the majority of the population). Unlike Dubai, they are already incorporating sustainable technologies into their large scale developments. Also unlike Dubai, there seems to be a much better understanding and appreciation of the social, cultural, historical and economic value of their built heritage. Instead of destroying the old to replace it with the new like Dubai and other rapidly developing cities like Shanghai and Beijing have done, they are already implementing efforts to conserve and incorporate the historic into their new economic vision.

Libya has been on my list of countries to visit for about a decade now since I first read about its architecture in Wallpaper Magazine. Now with this national push to draw tourists to the country, Libya has inched its way closer to the top of my list. I prefer to visit most up and coming cities before they have fully arrived on the global scene. I suppose with Libya, I might just have to hurry.

Energy City Libya - a business class city built along the coastal Malita
with mixed use developments, marina and parks
Libya is 90% desert - so these developments cited are being built in the northern part of the country closer to the Mediterranean


A once unlikely journey

Every so often, in a long and long while, there comes...

- a really well done commercial.

Think what you may about the automobile industry, we can't continue acting like the earth and all its beings are indestructible.