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Old Ideas in a New World: The Case of the Gulf Region

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EDRA 32/2001 Old World - New Ideas Edinburgh, Scotland July 3-6, 2001

Old Ideas in a New World: The Case of the Gulf Region

Dr. Yasser Mahgoub Assistant Professor of Architecture Department of Architecture, College of Engineering and Petroleum Kuwait university

Introduction • This paper discusses the continuity and absence of old architectural ideas in the emerging new world of the Gulf region countries . • It argues that while many ideas from the old world still exist in the new world in different forms and under different names, other old ideas have disappeared (or vanished) under pressures of change and development. • The paper compares old and new architectural examples from Gulf countries illustrating constants, variations, and transformations of old ideas in a new world. • The paper concludes that the reuse of old worlds' ideas is not a trend against globalization but, in the contrary, is a trend in support of globalization as a phase in human development with different manifestations in different parts of the world.

The Gulf Countries Countries of the Gulf region are going through another phase of their rapid development that started around the middle of the twentieth century. They were isolated from most global influences due to the harsh natural environment, undesirable living conditions and absence of natural resources that were in use at that time.

The new world came rapidly and ready-made to the countries of the Gulf region during the second half of the 20th Century. They did not have a chance to gradually transform from traditional to modern societies.

Map of the Gulf region

The Gulf Countries The decision of OPEC, in the early 70's, to raise oil prices hit the western economies hard, but it also came as a blessing in disguise for environment conscious in building design and the need to save energy was now more important than ever. On the other hand, the rise of oil prices by OPEC came as a blessing for the Gulf countries who enjoyed a second phase of their wealth and development.


Bedroom Livingroom






Vernacular Dwellings Types of vernacular dwellings in the Gulf before the '50s

The Gulf Countries In general, the Gulf countries went through the following development stages: Phase



First Phase

up to the 1940

- Pre-oil Period - Nomadic , traditional, primitive societies - Poverty, traditional (vernacular) architecture

Second Phase

1940 to 1973

- Discovery of Oil and wealth - Urban development - Modern architecture

Third Phase

1973 to 1991

- 1973 war and the rise of oil prices - Oil boom and rapid development - Post-modern and high-tech architecture

Fourth Phase

1992 to present

- The Second Gulf War - Recognition of identity crisis - Attempts to revive old traditional architectural styles

Kuwait Introduction Kuwait is located on the northern corner of the Gulf and occupies an area of 17,818 square kilometers. Fifty years ago it was only a small fishing village, but it has emerged as one of the richest and most culturally significant cities in the area. Kuwait went through too-rapid modern transformation and development stage that took place with enormous speed. Only a few historic monuments have been preserved in Kuwait as modernization continues to take its toll on the old urban environment and historic buildings. A few mosques and diwanias (social meeting houses) have been saved from demolition, and many have been replaced with new structures, reflecting the rapid changes in the recent history of the state.

Kuwait Kuwait before 1950

Kuwait Kuwait before 1950

Traditional architecture in Kuwait before 1950

Kuwait Kuwait before 1950

Old Kuwait walls and their demolition in 1957

Kuwait Traditional Architecture Architecture in Kuwait has passed through 3 distinctive phases since the end of the fifties until the end of the 20th century: I. The first phase was a mixture of houses built according to the traditional Kuwaiti house; a courtyard house closed from the outside and open to the inside area called alhoush, and some modern western villas.

Al Badr House

Kuwait Traditional Houses

Al Awadi House

Al Dabous House

Al Asousi House

Kuwait Kuwait after 1950

Kuwait City Master Plan 1952

Kuwait City Aerial Photo 1992

Kuwait The 60’s style II. The second phase during the sixties and seventies was marked by the introduction of the modern villa in the form of Mediterranean architecture found in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, where the architects of theses villas came from. The Kuwaitis were inspired by the cultural development of these Arab Mediterranean countries, where they used to spend their summer vacations. Those villas were designed using strange shapes and forms which did not reflect the type of life that existed behind them.

Villas style of the '60s

Kuwait The 90’s style III. The third phase encompasses the eighties and the nineties is marked by a mixture of styles from all over the world.

Villas style of the ’90s

Kuwait Traditional Style The third phase is also marked by an interest in revival of Kuwaiti traditional architecture has evolved.

Trials to develop an architectural style from traditional elements

Kuwait Traditional Style Several trials are made to develop contemporary architecture with identity and style.

Trials to develop an architectural style from traditional elements

Kuwait Traditional Style

Trials to develop an architectural style from traditional elements

Kuwait Traditional + Classic Styles

Different architectural styles side by side

Kuwait Post-Modern Styles The badjair, the traditional wind catcher is considered by many as an important feature of Kuwait traditional architecture. Other do not consider it as part of the "true" traditional Kuwaiti architecture. The badjair, they argue, was found in very few buildings located in the eastern quarter of the city belonging to rich Iranian merchants who resided in Kuwait at that time. They regret that many architects are using the badjairs extensively in their modern buildings as symbols of traditional Kuwaiti architecture.

The use of badjirs in modern buildings

Kuwait Modern Style

Modern office buildings

Modern public buildings

United Arab Emirates Introduction Architecture in the UAE was influenced by rapid and drastic economic, social and cultural changes that took place in the Gulf region during the second half of this century. The discovery of oil with commercial quantities caused an instant growth of national income. Large size projects and developments were launched in an effort to upgrade the standard of living of the citizens. Abu Dhabi was a small village where coastal tribes settled. Al Ain was an oasis village rich with water and palm trees. Its dry weather attracted coastal settlers during the hot humid summer season.

Al Ain

United Arab Emirates Traditional Architecture Vernacular settlements found before the discovery of oil were small and primitive. They were usually located close to intersections of trading routes or strategic coastal areas. Citadels and forts were built for defense purposes during tribal feuds. They were large in size and built using thick walls made of stone with rounded or square defense towers at each corner. They signified territories and provided refugees during tribal wars.

Traditional forts from Al Ain

Al Ain City - UAE

United Arab Emirates Traditional Architecture Because of its location on the entrance of the curving creek (Khoor), Dubai acquired an important position and was able to develop an outstanding trading center with India for pearl and goods.

Old map of Dubai city

Dubai city

United Arab Emirates Traditional Architecture

Sheikh Saeed House - Dubai

United Arab Emirates Traditional Architecture

Sheikh Saeed House - Dubai

United Arab Emirates Traditional Architecture

Bastakia area - Dubai

United Arab Emirates Modern Style

Al Ain modern buildings

United Arab Emirates Modern Style

Abu Dhabi modern buildings

United Arab Emirates Modern Style

Dubai modern buildings

Comparison Climatic solutions

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Comparison between traditional and modern climatic solutions

Comparison Old and New neighborhoods

Modern neighborhood



Vernacular and modern neighborhood planning

Traditional neighborhood

Comparison Old and New houses





Modern house design

Modern House Design

Vernacular House Design

Modern and traditional house design

Traditional house design

Comparison Old and New streets

Modern streets

Traditional streets

Analysis Old Ideas in a New World Ideas



Socio-cultural aspects

Separation between men



and women in public and


Men and women

private spaces is preserved

used to cover the windows

adhering to new criteria. While we


to different

were replaced by reflecting

find men and women interacting in

some buildings, especially

glass to provide privacy.

public places; i.e. shopping centers

religious buildings, we find

The traditional houses that

and restaurants, we find separation



allowed extended families

between men and women while

between men and women.

to reside and live together

entertaining guests.

We also find separation

were replace by individual

Nuclear family

between men and women



in some private villas.

single family only.

degrees. In

traditional wooden


called mushrabia,

accommodating a

Separation women

between men and


changed and is



house are the of


Analysis Old Ideas in a New World Ideas




The house


space for receiving

The traditional courtyard

They have been transformed from


travelling guests was an

was a basic element in the

simple spaces to lavishly decorated

Introvert / Extrovert design

essential part of the house.




A diwania or madiafa were

Houses are attached and

The application of western ideas in




form a continuos block of

the design of the house. The house

Social Spaces


guests coming

residential areas with small


distance. The

openings and built using




houses. Large aluminum and glass







continues to be important




indigenous designs

and materials.

surrounded it

by from

openings replaced




the small

part of the house to receive

wooden openings.. Use of foreign

and entertain guests

imported designs and materials instead of indiginous materials.

Analysis Old Ideas in a New World Ideas


Vanished shaded


Neighborhood Planning

The central role of the




Pedestrian / Cars

Islamic mosque.

between houses suitable for

neighborhoods for cars creating

human movement.

hostile pedestrians.





Analysis Old Ideas in a New World Ideas


Environmental Solutions

A revival of the use of


Sun and thermal protection

courtyard is

and badjeir), thick walls,


Wind utilization

many new designs.

and courtyard designs were

responding to the harsh natural

successful in providing a


evident in

Vanished catchers (baraguil


cooler climate

inside the house. They are no longer used to provide cooler environment inside the house.

Transformed Electric A/C completely replaced traditional



Discussion Globalization and Architecture The phenomenon of globalization is itself global, that is to say, all-encompassing. It is of course in the first instance a material or economic phenomenon, but, like all significant civilizational developments, it also has profound cultural or spiritual significance. G. B. Madison (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario)

Globalization is a controversial word that is currently dominating the intellectual and public discourse. While some view it as an evil trend towards dehumanization and economic domination others view it as a multifaceted phenomenon that poses challenges and offers new opportunities. The questions paused by this paper are: What is the relationship between globalization and architecture? How do the architects use - or reuse - the ideas of the old world in the new world of globalization?

Discussion Where do we fit in the Globalization process? The countries of the Gulf region went through a unique experience of rapid progress and development. From traditional vernacular societies during the pre-oil period they have been transformed into modern societies in a very short period of time due to oil wealth and rapid development. Globalization is a sweeping trend that affects all countries of the world; small or bug, developed or underdeveloped, rich or poor. Borrowing of ideas from historical precedence or from other regions and directly apply them to our new context is no longer a feasible solution. We need to develop new ideas from old world solutions that were vanished during the process of development and modernization.

Recommendations Principles of action for today •Revision of building codes and regulations that contributed to the production of urban fabric. Inventive Muslim interpretations of modern building types like office blocks and airport. Avoid importation of inappropriate second-rate imagery. Re-evaluations of traditional building types like mosque and housing Re-consideration of traditional planning principles such as mixed use and compact urban planning. "Convince" the elites to replace their imported image of progress with more coherent and effective one. Consider sustainability and green architecture as alternative approaches to architecture in the Middle east. The generation of appropriate forms of Middle Eastern architecture as sustainable as were those of tradition. The production of works of great and appropriate invention, which can draw from the past without copying it, as well as using the most sophisticated contemporary technology.

Conclusion Hope for a better future

There are some signs here and there that, at long last, the tide may be turning. The Architectural Review, Volume CCIII No 1213, March 1998

Old Ideas - New World Architecture: Gulf - العمارة التراثية - العمارة المعاصرة - الخليج  

EDRA 32/2001 Old World - New Ideas Edinburgh, Scotland July 3-6, 2001 Old Ideas in a New World: The Case of the Gulf Region افكار من العمارة...

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