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Contemporary Architecture in different areas of the Arab world: Redefining identity through a new built environment - Abstract

by Djemili Abderezak | Bellal Tahar

Although, the “Arab world” is not a monolithic, homogeneous entity, as it is portrayed in the title, during the second part of the last century the Arab world witnessed dramatic changes in its environments due to rapid and unparalleled wealth.

Some Arab countries were pushed almost overnight into the twentieth century. The transformation of the built environment and cities was staggering. Some Arab countries have seen building activities of unparalleled dimension. All over the Arab area different projects have been implemented including housing schemes, airports, mosques, museums, etc. It was assumed that, through this new and modern architecture, these countries should broadcast to the world that they have reached a higher level of economic and social welfare.

However, the cities have become places, which deny their roots and cultural values, places of nowhere. As in so many places, the call for a kind of global civilisation in which all drink coca cola, drive the same kind of cars, and watch western soap operas has destroyed Arab built environments and architecture grown out of tradition.

In one generation, people moved from old traditional courtyard houses into high rise apartment blocks. A variety and complexity of old streets and buildings are replaced by so called universal spaces. They can be few places which have seen so many international architects trying to solve the problem of how to accommodate local traditions with modern techniques. Despite the architectural surface dressing seen in many projects, the result is still a confused expression of cultural values

During the last decades, efforts were made to solve the problem. In this respect, many projects designed and implemented in the Arab world are dealt with in this paper, in relation to the expression of cultural and social identity through the built environment, architecture and building skills. The projects chosen in this paper as worthy of recognition reflect the diversity of needs and resources within the Arab world and this include an experimental village of Maadher near Msila –Algeria-, the second example concerns the late Hassan Fathy's emir house in Kuwait city, and the third case to be dealt with is the Hadj terminal project in Jeddah-Saudi Arabia-

All of these projects address critical aspects of the built environment such as the development of an architectural formal language and of building skills. The case studies imply a variety of strategies in the working of a physical environment and are, perhaps instructive not only as individual cases but as a whole.

Even more, the entire group as a search for a new architecture appropriate to the present and future Arab world. Yet one can consider these projects as representative of architectural thinking and activity in the different countries of the Arab world. This working paper reveals general aspects to gain comprehensive understanding, rather than statistical knowledge of Arab built environments. It also contributes to how the approach used in this paper can be adapted.