As cities in the United Arab Emirates grow, the need for a workforce increases concurrently. Shreya Singh was concerned about the migrant workers who are primarily filling that role and face exploitative and poor living conditions.
For her thesis, the growth and structure of cities and fine arts double major proposed a solution. She suggested a redesigned plan for the UAE’s migrant worker housing system, focusing on Al Quoz in Dubai. This plan would provide more humane living conditions for low-income migrant workers who are critical to the UAE’s development. Singh was born and raised in the UAE, giving her a front row seat to not only the nation’s recent development and urbanization, but also the troubles migrant workers face throughout the region.
“Since 2014, about 34,000 laborers have died in the Gulf due to exploitative working and living conditions,” she said. “I believe it is crucial to evaluate the impact of design.”
Singh explained that she had to adopt a truly holistic viewpoint as she designed. She was tasked with balancing liveability, sustainability, and affordability to create the most optimal living space possible. All the while, she also sought to design a space for migrant workers to form a community where they could reclaim a sense of belonging, rather than dehumanizing and isolating conditions they face now.
“Instead of creating more boundaries, I believe that when architecture and urban planning are combined, barriers between public and private spaces are diluted and places of synergies, interconnections, and exchanges are formed,” she said.
She was guided along the way to achieving this multifaceted solution by multiple professors. Associate Professor Min Lee and Professor Gary McDonogh both encouraged her to look into city design and structure on a deeper level than researching it. Meanwhile, Professor Daniela Voith lent her architectural expertise by providing criticism and feedback on Singh’s designs.
Singh hopes that her work can serve as a starting point for designers and architects to consider social inclusion rather than exclusion, particularly for urban areas.
What are the implications for your thesis research?
While the conditions of the UAE define a limited population, questions of adequate housing and lifestyle recur in other areas increasingly dependent on migrant labor subordinate to the needs of citizens, ranging from Hong Kong and Singapore to European cities. In all of these places, migrant workers need places to call their own, and design and socio-cultural knowledge must come together. I think my thesis can contribute to researchers and academics who are interested in improving housing conditions for the diasporic migrant worker population from an architectural and urban planning lens.
How does your thesis relate to your plans for the future?
In the future, I am planning to gain experience at an architecture firm that primarily works on affordable housing projects. I am particularly interested in learning more about how sustainable methods can be used in architecture to design energy-efficient spaces. This thesis gave me an opportunity to understand how to approach design projects from a human-centered perspective.