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Through the Lens of Color: An Interview with Gareth Doherty, Author of Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State

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Abstract

This interview by Mark Tirpak with Gareth Doherty of Harvard University Graduate School of Design, focuses on his Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State (University of California Press, 2017). With Paradoxes of Green (2017) and via the interview, Doherty recounts some of the findings of his ethnographic fieldwork in the Kingdom of Bahrain and describes tensions arising from differing conceptions of what ‘green’ means or signifies within this growing and predominantly arid region. An argument that Doherty makes in Paradoxes of Green (2017) is that color and form are interlinked, and that color deserves deeper consideration by policy-makers and other formal shapers of cities. The interview draws from Paradoxes of Green (2017) to discuss some of Doherty’s findings as well as his latest work on the intersections between landscape architecture and anthropology.
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Vol. 16, No. 1/2
2019
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Citation: Doherty, G. and
Tirpak M. 2019. Through the
Lens of Color: An Interview
with Gareth Doherty, Author
of
Paradoxes of Green:
Landscapes of a City-
State
.
PORTAL Journal of
Multidisciplinary International
Studies
, 16:1/2, 166-172.
http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/
portalv16i1/2.6836
ISSN 1449-2490 | Published
by UTS ePRESS | http://portal.
epress.lib.uts.edu.au
AUTHOR INTERVIEWS
Through the Lens of Color: An Interview with
Gareth Doherty, Author of Paradoxes of Green:
Landscapes of a City-State
Gareth Doherty, interviewed by Mark Tirpak
Corresponding authors: Gareth Doherty, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and
Director of the Master in Landscape Architecture Program at Harvard University Graduate
School of Design, 48 Quincy St, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA. gdoherty@gsd.harvard.edu
Mark Tirpak, urban researcher and planner. mark@urbanplanb.com
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/portalv16i1/2.6836
Article History: Received 25/09/2019; Revised 27/095/2019; Accepted 28/09/2019; Published
13/11/2019
Abstract
is interview with Gareth Doherty of Harvard University Graduate School of Design,
focuses on his Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State (University of California Press,
2017). With Paradoxes of Green (2017) and via the interview, Doherty recounts some of the
ndings of his ethnographic eldwork in the Kingdom of Bahrain and describes tensions
arising from diering conceptions of what ‘green’ means or signies within this growing and
predominantly arid region. An argument that Doherty makes in Paradoxes of Green (2017) is
that color and form are interlinked, and that color deserves deeper consideration by policy-
makers and other formal shapers of cities. e interview draws from Paradoxes of Green (2017)
to discuss some of Doherty’s ndings as well as his latest work on the intersections between
landscape architecture and anthropology.
Keywords:
Bahrain, Green, Desert, Date Palm, Landscape, Architecture, Place-Making, Sustainability,
Ecology, Urban, Design, Cities, Anthropology, Ethnography, Colors, Hues, Arabian Peninsula,
Persian Gulf.
DECLARATION OF CONFLICTING INTEREST The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with
respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. FUNDING The author(s) received no
financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
166
Interview
TIRPAK: Your research and teaching at Harvard University Graduate School of Design is described
as focused on the intersections between landscape architecture and anthropology. What have you found
working at or focusing on these particular intersections?
DOHERTY: On one level, a very rich area between two established disciplines. And yet I
see it as more than an interdisciplinary space—people and their relationships are so integral to
landscape that I’m not sure it’s helpful to consider them separately. Instead, I prefer to consider
landscape architecture as [an] extension of anthropology. Anthropology works with some of
the raw elements of landscape, materials, people and space (Doherty 2017: 77).
TIRPAK: With Paradoxes of Green, you argue for ‘thicker’ understandings of colour and
landscape by urban policy-makers in Bahrain and elsewhere—or consideration of the economic,
environmental, political, symbolic and other signicances of dierent landscape elements (such a date
palms) and their ‘urban’ or network characteristics. You suggest that landscape is a possible if not key
generator of urbanization, which you refer to as landscape urbanism or the urbanism of landscape.
Could you share more about these ideas?
DOHERTY: In fact, I began by studying the urbanism of landscape in Bahrain, which I
understand as the hard and soft infrastructures that are necessary for the provision of urban
landscape. By hard landscapes, I am referring to water and irrigation, for example, and by
soft, I’m referring to the social and cultural conditions that drive that landscape. At the time
I was motivated by ‘landscape urbanism,’ an argument that landscape is a primary driver of
urbanization. I came to realize, however, that people in Bahrain had dierent understandings
of the word landscape to me. ey often imagined luscious verdant gardens when I talked
about ‘landscape.’ But I was interested in landscape as a horizontal surface that might include
city, and desert as much as greenery. In order to communicate better with my interlocutors,
I began to focus on green, because it became clear that they understood landscape as the
contrast of constructed green with the indigenous beige desert. My eldwork conrmed that
green was denitely a driver of urbanization. For example, advertising for new residential
developments were dominated by the greenness of the constructed landscapes rather than the
buildings (Doherty 2017: 192).
TIRPAK: In Paradoxes of Green, you describe Bahrain to be the ‘smallest, densest, and greenest’
Arabian Penisula State (p. 6)—an island dened by the ‘grey-greenery’ of date palm groves (p. 8),
but also increasingly by the ‘monochrome’ green of lawns, parks and roadside landscaping (p. 9), as
well as by arid conditions and other prominent colors such as desert beiges and the distinct red and
white of Bahrain’s national ag. You depict Bahrain as being slightly ‘larger than Singapore but
smaller than London or New York’ (p. 10), and having a population of approximately 1.4 million in
2016. You also note that there is a high rate of per capita water use in Bahrain and that urban land
costs are arguably comparable with those of downtown Chicago. Are there any easy urban comparisons
that can be made for those who (like me) are not familiar with Bahrain?
DOHERTY: Exactly that Bahrain is approximate in area to Singapore yet with a smaller
population and, importantly, a very arid climate as opposed to a luscious tropical climate. In
fact, Bahrainis often have that comparison in mind too, especially for urban planning. I recall
many references to the comparison with Singapore in the various government ministries,
yet the climate issue is critical. e extreme aridity of the climate in Bahrain is something
that always surprises people. When I had friends come to visit me there, it was the climate
that they always remarked on. Dust storms were especially prevalent during the year I spent
there, sometimes lasting two to three days at a time. e air turns beige and it’s best to stay
Doherty and Tirpak
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indoors during that weather. For me, the spatial comparisons with other territories… such as
Singapore, London and New York [are important]. I grew up on a peninsula in Ireland, which
is exactly the same area as Bahrain too, and I always had that spatial comparison in mind when
I was walking through the island (Doherty 2017: 175).
TIRPAK: I was drawn to your descriptions of everyday interactions with the landscape that you
observed in Bahrain. For example, you note the informal farming of some decorative roadside date
palms by foreign workers—I am an urban harvester or forager myself in the US, grabbing neglected
citrus where I can pick it. You also describe cases where date palm groves have likely been poisoned
with diesel in Bahrain, as part of attempts by residents to try to outmaneuver certain religious statutes
and legal requirements that are viewed by some as hindrances to use of land and advancement. You
highlight some of the everyday politics of water and water use in Bahrain—such as frequent car
and building washing by the local elite and opinions about the use of groundwater, Treated Sewage
Euent (TSE) water and desalinated water. Furthermore, you describe the stratied access to
coastline that exists in Bahrain. Could you share more about these urban factors?
DOHERTY: Just as blue mixed with yellow gives green, so water and greenery are
interrelated in an arid desert environment. ere’s a wonderful Arabic phrase—translated as
‘ree things take away sadness: water, greenery and a beautiful face’—which indicates that
these are all anyone could want. As a consequence of the diculties posed by green, and by
its relative scarcity, green becomes the realm of the elites. Historically, we can see how people
bought date palm gardens in Bahrain, not for the nancial return on investment, but for
the social status the greenery would bring to the owner. In the same way, access to the sea is
something in Bahrain that is reserved for the elites. Having said that, there has not been the
trend of beach-going as there is in other countries.
TIRPAK: Your depiction of the Ashura festival or mourning ritual in Bahrain also struck me as
quite vivid, and I note that contrasting colors but also textures and materials (specically human
blood from self-aicted and supercial head wounds mixing with sweat and water and absorbed by
the white cloth worn by observers) marked the event that you witnessed. I was surprised and moved
by your descriptions of landscapes generally speaking through color—as shaped by relationships with
other colors but also time of day and season as well as by qualities of light, water, heat, humidity and
even sand or dust and manmade pollutants in the air. Overall, you argue for breaking any binary
that might exist between ‘desert’ (associated with poverty in Bahrain, apparently) and urban in
contrast with notions of ‘green.’ Could you share more about these experiences and understandings?
DOHERTY: I’ve an aversion to binaries. Why is everything black or white? Can’t we be
open to all the colors of the rainbow? One of the main issues I confronted with my study of
green was the fact that you can’t really come to understand green unless you also consider its
contrast with other colors. ere’s a wonderful greeting in the Arabian Peninsula, Shlawnak?,
which literally means ‘What’s your color?’ It’s an all-pervasive greeting in the peninsula yet no
one ever answers with the color the question asks for. Instead the reply is, in Arabic, ‘Praise be
to God.’ Of course, it would be great if we could answer with a color.
Part of the point I am making is that color and form are interlinked, yet we rarely discuss
the importance of color. Same when it comes to sustainability which is too often linked with
green. But isolating green from other colors is not helpful. Sustainable cities are blue, green,
red and in-between. Green is too often conated with sustainability, yet there is a wider
spectrum to consider; green is insucient by itself (Doherty 2017: 186).
TIRPAK: You were raised and studied in Ireland and also studied and work in the USA, adding
to scholarship about aspects of Bahrain’s landscape and urban culture, as well as to knowledge about
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e Bahamas and other regions. What can you say about multidisciplinary international studies?
Where do you think you or the eld will head next?
DOHERTY: In addition to working in the Arabian Peninsula and e Bahamas, I’ve also
been working in Brazil and West Africa, as well as in the region between Ireland and Northern
Ireland, where I’m from. What I nd most intriguing is how studying in one region can aect
your understanding of the other. I’m especially interested in concepts of landscape in countries
and societies where there isn’t a formal landscape architecture discipline. For instance, there’s
no precise translation of the word ‘landscape’ in Arabic. is is one of the things that attracted
me to the Arabic-speaking world. rough my eldwork for Paradoxes of Green, I came to
understand that landscape in Bahrain, and by extension the Arabian Peninsula, is understood
as the contrast of constructed green with an indigenous arid, beige, desert environment. So,
landscape is understood and dened through the lens of color. Meanwhile, color and color
theory is not something we teach in design schools, despite everything we design having a
color. Likewise, in Ireland, where I was born, we don’t have a word for landscape in the Irish
(Gaelic) language. Irish understandings of landscape were much more rooted in the cultural
and agricultural practice than in a pictorial aesthetic. I say, ‘were’ because now we mostly speak
English in Ireland and this confuses, but not totally changes, our understandings of landscape.
e Irish understandings of landscape became clearer to me when we did collective eldwork
there in the spring of 2019 (Carr 2019). I am Principal Investigator on a project where we
were studying the impacts of Brexit on the border region between Ireland and Northern
Ireland and the potential to understand the border as a region rather than as a line (Doherty
2017: 282).
TIRPAK: In the preface to Paradoxes of Green you mention teaching in Australia prior to
your rst journey to e Kingdom of Bahrain and later doctoral studies (Doctor of Design, 2010)
at Harvard—which led to your eldwork in Bahrain. Australia in especially the 2000s has faced
extreme drought conditions, which prompted responses that continue to shape urban practices there
and further aeld. For example, I noticed during my doctoral eldwork in Texas that Australian
manufactured water-conserving dual-ush toilets have been installed in San Antonio as part of
municipal eorts to conserve water (Ramirez 2012). Could you share more about your Australian
experiences—or how Australian practices, sensibilities or scholarship might relate to what you found
in Bahrain?
DOHERTY: I’ve spent a couple of extended periods in Australia, rst in Brisbane where
I taught at Queensland University of Technology [QUT], and I really loved it there. Later, I
taught a landscape architecture studio at RMIT University in Melbourne, and on the same
trip I was briey a Visiting Scholar at the University of Sydney. While I lived in Australia I
was confronted for the rst time in my life with extreme drought. Not to mention extremes
of temperatures, and scale. I recall going on one 6-hour long drive inland and yet it was barely
perceptible on the map of Australia. My main memories from Australia are that sheer scale of
the continent but also the scale and magnitude of urban challenges that are linked to climate.
Bahrain is a very dierent scale, but [has] similar climate challenges, and water shortages. One
of the things that attracted me to Bahrain was its smaller, manageable, scale, the opposite of
Australia! But the problems and opportunities in Bahrain are not always particular to Bahrain
but applicable to dierent regions all over the world including Australia.
TIRPAK: Out of curiosity, is your work in any way inuenced by Nancy D. Munn’s ethnographic
studies of Australian Aboriginal societies and spatial practices that include walking? I was introduced
to Munn’s (1996) research via Ben Chappells Lowrider Space (2013)—in which Chappell uses
ethnographic methods that include riding along with car customizers in their vehicles to explore
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Mexican American custom car culture and policing in Austin, Texas. I ask, as I am struck by your
descriptions and use of walking to study dierent urban conditions in Bahrain.
DOHERTY: I’m not as familiar with Nancy D. Munn and Ben Chappell’s work as I
should be. When I rst arrived in Bahrain, I was not expecting walking to be as central to my
method as it later became. I don’t drive, and public transport in Bahrain was not something
my upper middle class friends knew anything about or encouraged me to know about at
rst. So, I ended up walking everywhere and enjoyed it. I realized my walks always led to
interesting encounters. People would stop me and say hello and ask if I was okay. So, I met lots
of people I would not otherwise have met, including some people who became my friends and
interlocutors.
TIRPAK: Im also curious if you encountered any hostilities or problems related to your research
or approach? Simply for comparison, I noticed and sometimes was caught up in relatively aggressive
anti-homeless policing in sections of downtown San Antonio, Texas, as part of my doctoral eldwork
and daytime urban wanders there (Tirpak 2018).
DOHERTY: I’m happy to say that my walks through Bahrain were never problematic.
I can’t recall any unpleasant encounters during my walks apart from the frustration of not
being able to cross some of the highways …e island of Bahrain today is not constructed
for walking, so roads sometimes act as walls. ere were some examples, which I mention in
the book, where this becomes a form of exclusion. By building a shopping mall that no one
can walk to, you create an exclusive space … With very few exceptions, people were open to
my presence and welcoming. e only issues I faced came after my eldwork was ended. I
returned shortly after the political and social unrest of 2011 and was struck by the change in
atmosphere and the militarization of the landscape (Taylor 2015). People tell me I could not
do today what I did ten years ago. My presence walking around the island could be viewed
with suspicion.
TIRPAK: Do you have a sense for how Paradoxes of Green (2017) has been received in Bahrain
or the wider region?
DOHERTY: In terms of the book’s reception in Bahrain, I haven’t been back since its
publication in 2017, but I plan to return later this year. e manuscript was read by several
Bahrainis before publication. I tried to present a balanced view of a complex and delicate
political situation. I hope people can see that the book is full of love for Bahrain. I hear it has
been received positively in Bahrain, and I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.
TIRPAK: How has publishing Paradoxes of Green changed or shaped your writing?
DOHERTY: ere’s a general rule of thumb that for every hour one spends in the eld,
one should spend four hours actually writing about it. It is through the act of writing that we
think about and interpret the experiences from the eld. I tried to write up my eld notes as
frequently as I could, and kept re-reading them every day when I was in the eld. It denitely
makes me consider the writing process as an important part of the interpretation of eld
research. It is something one needs to keep plugging at. It is not something I can sit down and
do, but there are many stages and layers to writing.
TIRPAK: Is there anything that you left out of Paradoxes of Green (2017) that you wish now
you had included?
DOHERTY: One of the challenges of eldwork is in the tension between your
interlocutors and your research. ere were several aspects my eldwork which I deliberately
chose not to include. Some of these were political, others dealt with sensitive and personal
information that might compromise the identities of my friends and interlocutors. I have no
Through the Lens of Colour
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regrets about leaving anything out of Paradoxes of Green that I deliberately chose to leave out.
For instance, writing about politics was very hard. Because I wanted to give a balanced view
and at the same time, the book is about green and not about politics. But I hope I have shown
how green is central to the political life of Bahrain.
One of the biggest, and unintentional, omissions only became apparent to me when the
book was going to press. As I sent the nal artwork to the publisher it dawned on me for
the rst time that all my photographs were taken during the day—meanwhile most of my
eldwork was done at night. I had to do my eldwork at nighttime because of the weather.
Although the weather for much of the year is delightful in Bahrain, for several months of the
year it is very hot. As a consequence, I could only walk after the sun went down. But nighttime
was when public space would come alive, so it made sense to walk then too.
I’ve since become intrigued with the nighttime as a design challenge. I think it’s fair to say
that most public spaces are utilized at the nighttime in Bahrain, yet all the plans I’ve ever seen
designed for the region are designed and represented for the daytime. At night, colors change,
perceptions of space change, and uses change. We had a conference at Harvard on this topic as
a result of this omission: After Dark: Nocturnal Landscapes and Public Spaces in the Arabian
Peninsula (Raji 2017). is is one of my current research projects and a focus of a new design
lab I am heading at Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Critical Landscapes Design Lab
[http://criticallandscapes.com/].
TIRPAK: Do you have any advice for doctoral students thinking about taking on international,
ethnographic and multidisciplinary approaches to research? Any advice for universities in regards to
structuring or supporting this type doctoral research?
DOHERTY: I realized quite early on in my research that for practical reasons, such as the
diculties getting access to archives, that I was going to have diculty getting the information
I needed. It was clear I would only be able to gather this information from an in-depth period
living in Bahrain. Before leaving for the eld, I remember speaking with my advisors about
methodology. ey explained that I needed to do what I needed to do. I think this was very
good advice because it helped me to be exible in the eld.
e primary advice I would give to students is to value chance encounters. I found the rst
weeks to be dicult as, in an eort to be ecient, I tried to plan most aspects of my eldwork.
en, I realized that not alone did my eldwork rarely work out as I planned but that the
most interesting results came from the unpredicted encounters. It was then when I came to
appreciate the value of chance. And I began to create the chances of chance happening. For
instance, the chance of chance was greatly helped by walking. I found that many of my most
interesting and valuable encounters were during chance encounters.
One of the main structural problems for universities in terms of supporting this type of
research is probably nancial. I was fortunate to nd funding in the form of a travel fellowship
I applied for. Having access to funding is important for the ability to do this sort of in depth
ethnographic work.
TIRPAK: It’s a minor passage in the book, but I enjoyed your light critiquing of a LEED-
certied building on a manmade island in Dubai as one example of less nuanced or more economically
motivated understandings of urban ‘green’ or sustainable development in the region. I was also struck
by your depictions of ‘green deserts’ in Bahrain (pp. 121–122)—such as green lawns and trac
roundabouts along what you call ‘VIP roads’ (p. 132). You suggest that, to some degree, such practices
or politics are shaped by the perspectives of foreign expatriates and distant designers, but also by the
interests of local ruling elites. Could you talk more about this?
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DOHERTY: Well this is one of the paradoxes behind the title: e paradox that to green
is equated with environmentalism and to create green space in desert environments is not very
green from an environmental point of view. It’s not good to talk about green without knowing
which hue of green. Ideas of green are very culturally specic, and there are many hues. And
green is understood in terms of its relationship to other colors. So we need to consider other
colors too when discussing landscape and the environment.
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Book
Full-text available
This innovative multidisciplinary study considers the concept of green from multiple perspectives—aesthetic, architectural, environmental, political, and social—in the Kingdom of Bahrain, where green has a long and deep history of appearing cooling, productive, and prosperous—a radical contrast to the hot and hostile desert. Although green is often celebrated in cities as a counter to gray urban environments, green has not always been good for cities. Similarly, manifestation of the color green in arid urban environments is often in direct conflict with the practice of green from an environmental point of view. This paradox is at the heart of the book. In arid environments such as Bahrain, the contradiction becomes extreme and even unsustainable. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, the book explores the landscapes of Bahrain, where green represents a plethora of implicit human values and exists in dialectical tension with other culturally and environmentally significant colors and hues. Explicit in this book is the argument that concepts of color and object are mutually defining and thus a discussion about green becomes a discussion about the creation of space and place.
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The first ethnographic book devoted to lowrider custom car culture puts a new spin on an aesthetic and mechanical achievement through which Mexican Americans alter the urban landscape and make a place for themselves in an often segregated society. Copyright
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A travers l'etude des prohibitions spatiales chez les Aborigenes australiens, l'A. montre que l'espace n'est pas statique et qu'il n'est pas en opposition avec le dynamisme du temps. Il considere les pratiques aborigenes d'exclusion spatiale en des termes qui coordonnent les elements de l'espace, du temps et de l'action corporelle dans un seul paradigme de changement de relations. Differentes sortes de « transposabilites » emergent entre les lieux de pouvoir aborigenes et les champs spatiaux mobiles des acteurs. L'A. finit par l'analyse de la mise en scene de Central Park a New-York
Harvard Graduate School of Design Redefines the Post-Brexit Landscape of the Irish Northwest
  • G Carr
Carr, G. 2019, 'Harvard Graduate School of Design Redefines the Post-Brexit Landscape of the Irish Northwest,' Harvard Graduate School of Design, 22 May. Online, available: https://www.gsd.harvard.
After Dark in the Arabian Peninsula
  • M Y Raji
Raji, M. Y. 2017, ' After Dark in the Arabian Peninsula,' The Harvard Crimson, 5 May. Online, available: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2017/5/5/arabian-peninsula/ [Accessed 10 October 2019].
How to Score a Free Toilet in Texas: The Water Rebate Round-up
  • D Ramirez
Ramirez, D. 2012, 'How to Score a Free Toilet in Texas: The Water Rebate Round-up,' StateImpact Texas,
The Bahraini Uprising, 4 Years Later
  • A Taylor
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Not Your Neighborhood Taco Truck?: A Critical Urban Futures Study of Mobile Food Vending
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