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Vertical Atlas is a research project in five chapters, aimed at the creation of a new atlas to navigate the complex techno-geographies of the world today. The fourth edition: Futures.gcc, focusses on the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. These position themselves as competing digital, corporate service platforms and each brand themselves with their own futuristic architecture, megacities, investment opportunities and visions of artificial futures.

20:00 – 22:00
also this evening

18:00-19:30 Thursday Bite

19:00-21:00 Night Shift: How about an app?

The museum is free of charge from 17:00 to 21:00 


Het Nieuwe Instituut
Museumpark 25
3015 CB Rotterdam


Standard€ 7,50
Studentens, CJP, Friends and Members of Het Nieuwe Instituut€ 3,75

Over the past few years, the Gulf has given rise to a specific brand of futurism. Cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are not only racing to out-modernize one another but also to create their own specific version of the shape of things to come. The Gulf city states brand themselves with their own futuristic architecture, aesthetics, investment opportunities and special economic zones, and are increasingly morphing into competing digital, corporate service platforms for city-users from all over the planet. 

Masdar City in Abu Dhabi has never been a dwelling site for the present, but was developed to be the hotbed of post-oil, sustainable futures. Having failed to accomplish this vision, it is now being rebranded by its parent company Mubadala for a different sustainable energy future by developing and supporting research projects around the world.

NEOM, a new, high concept paradisiacal city-state due to be built from scratch on the south coast of the Saudi peninsula, is the next step in this unique logic of city development. It is envisioned as a start-up the size of a country. In addition to future energy research it will focus on genetic research and the design of artificial ecologies, and will again house a population of global expat city-users.

In the meanwhile, the city-users of the present as well as the local inhabitants dwell indoors in their digitally rendered interiors to escape the intense heat, and engage in a version of public life almost exclusively in cyberspace, where distinctions in rights and access between these groups -as well as genders- are maintained with advanced biometrics and other technologies. 

To promote their regional political interests, the city states are increasingly operating as weaponized cloud platforms. Human users and social media bots are engaged in (automated) technological and political clashes, as proxies of regional powers projecting different mutually exclusive versions of the future which are, for the foreseeable financial future, all dependent on the exploitation of oil fields. 

Could oil money actually generate post-oil futures? Could a present ever have more quality than a future? Or should this dynamic of competing for oilfields to generate the energy to run the global computational machine and support bot-warfare on conflicting urban visions be seen as a likely projection of wider global futures?  


Marc Owen Jones will speak about technological culture of the Gulf region as it was shaped by different historical forces like the british colonial empire, the royal houses of the region and the particular kinds of states they formed, and the impact of the climate on the notion of public space. Amal Khalaf will speak about the central role of visualized futures in the politics and culture of the Gulf region and the way these futures tend to obscure the present. 

Marc Owen Jones 

Marc Owen Jones is Assistant Professor in Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities at Hamid bin Khalifa University where his research focuses on issues of social justice, technology and the Gulf. Marc Owen Jones has written about issues of political repression, and the use of digital technology as a form of political control. He is the co-editor of Gulfization of the Arab World (2018) and Bahrain’s Uprising: Resistance and Repression in the Gulf (2015). In addition to his academic work, he contributes to the Washington Post, New Statesman, CNN, the Independent, PEN International, and appears frequently on the BBC, Channel 4 News, and Al Jazeera.

Amal Khalaf 

Amal Khalaf is a curator and artist and currently Director of Programmes at Cubitt Gallery, London and Projects Curator at the Serpentine Galleries, London. Here and in other contexts she has commissioned and developed residencies, exhibitions, workshops and collaborative research projects that address the role of art operating within pedagogy and social urgencies. She is a founding member of artist collective GCC, was the Commissioning Editor of Projects for Ibraaz, as well as a trustee for not/ and on the artistic committee for Arts Catalyst.  In 2016 she co-directed the 10th edition of the Global Art Forum, Art Dubai. Amongst others in educational and cultural contexts, Khalaf's work has been presented at Goldsmiths College in London, MoMA PS1 in New York, New Museum in New York, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Musee D'Art Moderne in Paris, The Sharjah Art Foundation in Sharjah and Serralves, Porto.

Vertical Atlas

Vertical Atlas is a series of five events that attempt to develop a techno-political cartography, departing from the conceptual model laid out by Benjamin Bratton in The Stack. This series aims at investigating specific geozones where the entanglement of different sovereignties surface and different stacks clash. Each event consists of a public program in Het Nieuwe Instituut and a research lab for invited guests.Vertical Atlas: is developed and produced by Hivos Digital Earth and Het Nieuwe Instituut.

This project is initiated by Benjamin Bratton, Leonardo Dellanoce, Arthur Steiner and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, and is developed and produced by Het Nieuwe Instituut, Hivos Digital Earth and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Thursday Bite

Before the Thursday Night you can grab a bite to eat with the speakers and staff of Het Nieuwe Instituut. At 18:00 Het Nieuwe Café will a light vegetarian meal. Dinner vouchers are available for € 7.70 up to a day before the particular Thursday Night event via the Tickets link.

Become a Member

Become a Member of Het Nieuwe Instituut and you’ll support our mission to navigate the vast and evolving field of design. You’ll also be inspired by our special program of Members’ events, meeting up with other like-minded people as we invite you to reflect with us on design’s changing role in technology, economics, culture and society.

Vertical Atlas was made possible thanks to the generous support of:

Kévin Bray
Het Nieuwe Instituut and Digital Earth
Benjamin Bratton, Arthur Steiner, Leonardo Dellanoce, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer