Dr Haider Ali Akmal

Design Catalog ++

  1. Uncanny AI
  2. Tarot of Things
  3. Internet of Things Board Game
  4. Spatial Model for IoT
  5. Empathy Engine
  6. Urban Essence
  1. Orient Smart
  2. Halton Mill
  3. Muse Talent
  4. UN70th

Art Catalog ++
  1. This tiny garden that I tend
  2. Specimens
  3. Whispers
  4. Nostalgia Disturbia
  5. Back & Forth
  6. Taboos

Writing Catalog ++
  1. In Blind Sight
  2. My beef with Apple︎︎︎
  3. A Philosophy of Malfunction︎︎︎
  4. The weight of starlight︎︎︎

Haider is a designer, artist, educator, and researcher exploring the intricacies of more-than-human presents and futures for art, design, and technology.

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land where I work and live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. I celebrate the stories, culture and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders of all communities who also work and live on this land.

Urban Essence

What would the essence of a city be?

“Life can’t be all that bad, I’d think from time to time. Whatever happens, I can always take a long walk along the Bosphorus”
Orhan Pamuk


What is a city? Is it a collection of sights? Stones? Landmarks? Or is it a gathering of people, of lives, or happenings? Is it history that makes a city? Or is it the will of humans? Whatever a city is if you could capture its essence, what would that essence be? This project was part of my MA in Design Management︎︎︎ and explored an imagining of what the essence of the city of Lancaster could be. Tasked with crafting a designed artefact that captured this essence, what is presented is a Koyaanisqatsi-esque tale of experiencing the city and speculating about its more-than-humanness.


  • Understand what a city is.
  • Capture its essece.
  • Release that essence into an artefact.


  • Speculative Design
  • Product Design
  • More-than-human Design

Accompanying video backed against a dramatised reading of finding Lancaster.

Research & Contribution

This project was a strange one but highly enjoyable. It was a perfect merger between art practice and design thinking to craft something that existed in between both realms. For that reason this project is presented here as it was on the day, as an experiential journey. The film above are compiled background visuals and music to the text below, I welcome you to explore them as we explored the city of Lancaster to understand its essence. The images ahead are the various sights of Lancaster and its surrounding areas.

“Let me take you on a walk, a walk across a changing landscape; across fields and hills, along rivers and canals. Hugging walls and fences, rummaging through woods and running across shores. Let me take you on a walk, a walk through history, through time and souls. To places where life is bustling and others where the dust of gloom has settled as the norm. Let me tell you how the land has faces of its own, how it echoes its tale and sings a song secretly known.”

“I stand on the sandy shores of Morecambe, a gray drizzle in the air as drops of water embrace the ocean far away. There is a constant change in the waves, new water coming in older moving on. There is a change in cities and settings that build along the waves, new constructions, new destructions. People come and go, they are born and they die.”

“Morecambe’s famous days of tourism are a shadow of its past, but water keeps this place alive reminding it of its movement; of its change. I stand on the canal, an image of busy ships carrying heavy loads across industrial times.”

“Wandering there now it’s a place of calm and comfort, of walking your dog and appreciating the harmonious landscape. In the grime of ages an old stone bridge still stands, the water still flows.”

“They say time flows like water. I traveled across time zones to Lancaster, to find it a magical place. I was so happy to get a room facing the east, imagining the first ray of morning sunshine on my bed. But looking through my window, it constantly jumps from one picture to the next. Four seasons coupled in a frame one after the other. Clouds like makeup on the sky. Winds that can easily blow me in tears. Naughty hail trying to draw my attention, noisy as it falls around.”

“A rainy day gives me enough reasons to curl up in bed and read a book, but sometimes it seems worthwhile when a rainbow pops out.”

“It is very special of Lancaster to have so many ups and downs, these variations symbolic movements announcing of change in the air every day.”

“On a usual weekday morning along the canal, I keep walking till I reach the end of a long queue awaiting the bus. The busiest moments in this living breathing city are on its narrow veins; its roads. The city is alive with this rush in its veins, at times it is still but the queues keep moving. These lines if not at the bus stop are seen at cash machines and, cafes, and bakeries.”

“There are vibrations in the city of all the people walking, sitting, jogging, running, shopping, working, at times arguing other times playing. People of all ages, a changing spectrum of colors on a canvas of stone.”

“ Elderly and young, the people move not just physically but in other ways. Sometimes enjoying the scenery, other times discussing which flavor of crisps are better to choose from?”

“These vibrations are everywhere clearly felt. Walking along the canal I see people moving, passing each other by. They slightly nod as if to say “Yes, I feel it too”.

“Standing in Lancaster I look around and often have the same thought echo in my mind, ‘This is an old city!’”

“I see buildings that are old, roads that are old, people that are old.”

“People here are not interested in what’s modern, or perhaps they are but would rather not? The city seems to be built through time, stretching between points keepings things alive. It does certainly feel like they try to make things as old as they can. Each brick or stone is different in colour, shape and size yet they are all fit where they should.”

“But stepping out I see similar shapes and forms replicating nature almost, are they trying to duplicate natures perfection? Are they avoiding change? Yet still there is a gradient to this stoney city.”

“By the beach I’m not attracted to the water, or the sand but to the stone that makes this place what it is. A combination of black and green, taking from nature its true artistic forms. If Lancaster is created by this artist of nature then surely all things must be as alive?”

“Time is elastic, it stretches and bends cavorting with the space it's in. I sometimes imagine time as the distance between the moth and the flame, at times so massive as the moth dances around, and then suddenly drops singeing a few microscopic hairs on its own wings.”

“For that brisk moment and instant the flame, distance and the moth all become one, time becomes infinite. Stretching as far as oblivion where everything is at once beautiful and accursed, calm and chaotic. Everything becomes of interest because everything enters a state of sense. But at what price?”

“The flame becomes the moment, a haunting reminder of the volatile nature of things. I’ve painted a picture if what I call a gentle kind of chaos, where moments play the key roles in giving it definition. It's a cloud in the landscape at once soft and comforting and then rabid and violent.”

“It's a nature often found in cities. They have a personality like any average person, some grand, others grotesque, some romantic others hideous. These cities are the characters of this play—the moths around the flame—the difference being they've danced their inevitable dance and have crossed the threshold.”

“These cities live in the silence of what can only be called, history. Lancaster speaks volumes of a past made in trade invoking a history of innovation amidst a veil of slavery. There are moments it can't remember and others it can't forget. A chaotic battle rages on in this silence, invisible till you place an ear to the cobblestones. You sense vibrations of glory days, of magnificent and majestic mechanical elephants, of sailors and their trades, of art, of culture, of violence, injustice and evolution.”

“Lancaster's essence is many things, but above all it is the fact that it has a gentle kind of chaos, a silhouette in the hills. It has a certain movement, through change, through vibrations, through the people that reside in it and through the many faces it shows in the weather. It’s made from the hills it stands on, it is part of the nature it lives in.”

Glimpses of Lancaster.

The tale of Lancaster the city had to be told as poetically as the city itself, its essence translated into experiential senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound.

A City’s essence in a box

Each box is crafted out of locally sourced Ash, the grain left intact the scent of wood retained. Within each section of the artefact is a piece of Lancaster to be experienced. Glass coated images to be held up to the sun, the scent of the sea and the smells of the city, a taste of locally sourced fish, and the sounds of the city captured. The surface combined to be touched, an echo of the hills that make up the Lune valley where Lancaster resides.

Speculative designed artefact encompassing the essence of Lancaster.

Different views of City in a Box.

The details of how this artefact was crafted is explored in an online blog︎︎︎ that was kept during the design process. In all it was an intensive week of playfull and poetic design practice, that is difficult to muster in words.

Process of designing the City in a Box.

Haider Ali Akmal
Ming Hsin Lee
Kannaika Kampalavalee
Shiyu Ma
Shuwen Han

Further links
Progress for this project was cataloged in an online blog︎︎︎.