Daniel Clearwater: Reflections from the Outside

Vindustyring #2 14.desember 2020 - 10.januar 2021

Vindustyring #2 by Daniel Clearwater

After I moved to Oslo I strolled through the streets and tried to learn about the city through its architecture. As an architect, I tried to read the city from the facades: the buildings were more comparable in the quality of design and more uniform than the many other cities I’ve been to and lived in. It was hard to tell if the facades reflected the high level of equality in Norway or the homogeneity of its society. Perhaps both.

But could this equality extend to equality in representation in the field of architecture? As an immigrant in Norway, I felt I had to work harder to prove my worth, and as a refugee, I dealt with so much prejudice that my expectations remained low.

Where I come from—the United Arab Emirates—different facades would flash rapidly before me when riding in a car. The ideologies of the people and the culture of the country were mirrored in these buildings. An extravagantly ornamental mosque with a Fatimid style in the city of Sharjah was probably commissioned by the Egyptophile ruler of the Emirate. An unreasonably high apartment-block in Dubai with an environmentally unconscious glass-envelope (built to answer the need for rapid development, with the lowest costs and inevitably the lowest quality). My apartment building, a run-down building with windows only just big enough to let some light in, and a construction design just about robust enough to hold the building from falling—represented inequality and injustice. If I worked hard,’ I thought, ‘I’d escape this inequality.’ But being gay in the Middle East only gets you so far.

In Oslo, however, being gay is not an issue. Yet while applying for jobs as an architect, I couldn’t help but notice the proportionally small amount of non-Norwegians—and non-Europeans—working in architectural firms, considering how diverse the population of Oslo is. Was the uniformity of the buildings of Oslo a reflection of marginalization rather than homogeneity?

‘Perhaps this was a problem with recent immigrants,’ I thought, ‘people who didn’t understand the system and failed to navigate it?’ Yet when talking to international friends in the field of architecture, they told stories about their applications being moved to the bottom of the pile, even if they were as qualified as other applicants. This is not only an issue of ethnic background. Several ethnic Norwegian acquaintances told stories that their foreign degrees from top universities weren’t considered as an added advantage. This inward-looking attitude evokes distrust in anything foreign, foreign name, foreign skin-color, or a foreign degree, even from a top architecture school.

The situation is exacerbated if you’re a stateless architect like myself, with only a few places to seek refuge and find a job. How can we inspire young people with non-European backgrounds to choose architecture as a profession if they only see white practitioners in architecture firms? Is it sustainable for countries to lose their creative talents over racism and discrimination?

For now, uniformity and marginalization persist. Let’s hope for a future for architecture in which the “equality of Oslo’s facades” is reflected in the field of architecture.

Daniel Clearwater ble uteksaminert fra Ajman University med en Bachelor of Science in Architecture i 2019. Hans interesserefelt som arktitekt er generativ design og materialitet i forhold til kritisk regionalisme. I frykt for rettsforfølgelse på grunn av hans legning - som er kriminalisert i De forente arabiske emirater - flyttet Clearwater til Madrid i 2019 og jobbet ved Ensamble Studio til han flyttet til Oslo i 2020.

Vindusytring #2 by Daniel Clearwater