Starting a Conversation on Culture and Sustainability

A prototype of a cycling-friendly abaya as part of the Tahwheel project.

A research project promoting sustainable transportation includes an abaya design that allows users to comfortably ride a bicycle.

While addressing the lack of cycling culture in the UAE during NYU Abu Dhabi’s Re-Design class, students discovered that the country’s mode of transportation is inevitably tied to its culture and local clothes. As cogwheels started to turn, Tahwheel  — a research project promoting attitudes towards sustainable transportation and biking was born. 

Ekin Basaran, Class of 2020 was brought on to help with the project through NYUAD’s Post-graduation Practical Training Program, a program which allows faculty to appoint graduating seniors to work full-time on faculty research projects right after their graduation. With Assistant Professor of Practice of Visual Arts Goffredo Puccetti as her advisor, Basaran spent most of her time on ethnographic surveys for cycling, sustainability, and the perception of the kandura and abaya, the national dress for male and female Emiratis respectively.

Ekin Basaran, Class of 2020.

Basaran also delved deeper into the history of the UAE national dress and how it was contextualized in a bid to promote cohesiveness in the Gulf region. “The abaya and the kandura reinforce a sense of unity, while also representing values that connect the Emirati society to the Bedouin traditions: religion, modesty, and nationalism,” Basaran explained. Tahwheel aims to start the conversation on how culture can dynamically change with the times. Accompanying this research is a design proposal of an abaya that will allow its user to comfortably ride a bicycle.

“I am an advocate for cross-disciplinary learning.”

Basaran is an economics major who wants to pursue a career in design research, the process that provides design solutions to user needs.

Her study away semester at NYU New York had broadened her exposure and understanding of the field from designing user experience to product branding. “I would like to be a strategist or a designer who can facilitate a dialogue between designers and business managers,” Basaran said. 

Basaran has accepted an offer to attend Yale School of Management as a Silver Scholar and will begin her studies in the fall of 2021. In the meanwhile, she will join an international creative agency based in Istanbul, Turkey to work as a strategic planner. 

Ekin Barsan’s research position was one of many from NYU Abu Dhabi’s Post-graduation Practical Training Program (PPTP). The program allows faculty to appoint graduating seniors to work full-time on faculty research projects in the summer following their graduation, giving the graduated senior time to transition into the real world while providing the faculty with support in research.

Learn more about NYUAD’s undergraduate research.

Students from the Re-Design class who originally conceived the idea are Am Silruk, Sara Alanis, Vid Milaković, and Emirati student Maitha Alghfeli.