A quarterly specialized journal
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Contemporary Arab architecture: A critical reading

Issue 27
Contemporary Arab architecture: A critical reading

The researcher analyses and discusses the development of the Arab region and the relationships among this development, architectural trends, and thoughts concerning the issue of identity. This study highlights the problematic questions and challenges that Arab architecture faces from an educated viewpoint.


It is clear that the most important implications of the challenges facing contemporary Arab societies lie in the ambiguity of the concept of contemporary cultural identity and in the way this ambiguity is reflected in the political, social and economic spheres. Contemporary cultural identity is challenged by globalization and the influence of the West. It is likely that discussions about culture – which coincided with or emerged after the uprisings that have taken place in the Arab region since 2011 – are evidence of the elusive nature of Arab cultural identity.

Today, the Arab architectural environment can no longer continue to create cities without identities. In many Arab countries, cities have been built without taking the culture of the inhabitants into account. The people who built these cities borrowed architectural models that were unrelated to local culture. As a result, these countries have depleted natural resources and incurred exorbitant operating costs, because these cities do not meet cultural and environmental needs. In addition to the many negative effects of globalization, this has aggravated global warming and resulted in increasing amounts of pollution and the emergence of social incoherence and disintegration, and cultural isolation.

In light of the above, the researcher sees the establishment of a long-term strategy for architecture in the Arab world as imperative. This strategy should be based on addressing social needs and on the requirements of the surrounding environment. It must also take into account factors that are specific to the region. Education will play an important role in promoting concepts about the culture and environment. Intellectuals and scientists should play a practical role in helping to formulate a general opinion, whether through their work at educational institutions or by engaging in dialogue with all sectors of society. The efforts of intellectuals and scientists in their various areas of specialisation should be directed towards reshaping the Arab world’s thinking in a way that respects the environment and deals with reality. The new foundations of this thinking should be based on dealing with the Other through positive and purposeful dialogue, not merely following the Other. This new thinking should distinguish between what is necessary and what is possible, and should be able to specify and define the applications, priorities and methodologies. From now on, there will be no need for self-flagellation, crying over the past, or being dazzled by the experiences of others without taking their differences into account.
We have to contribute to developing the Arab cultural discourse and creating an elite generation that includes architects and planners capable of overcoming difficulties – such as the crisis of identity – that are facing contemporary Arab cities. Intellectuals and scientists will help to shape the future of the contemporary Arab city with informed and effective efforts that overcome the conflict of Self vs. Other that has long restricted Arab thinking, which has been influenced by Orientalism. They must also make up for the loss of Self that has resulted from globalization.

Today, it is imperative that we find and adopt an educated stance on Arab architectural criticism and thought. This should apply to everyone who influences the creation of the architectural environment, including architects, engineers, doctors, sociologists, thinkers, planners, politicians, teachers, writers and artists. All the aforementioned professionals evaluate individual buildings and city planning, and their contributions will be the first step toward formulating a concept of Arab culture where the various elements and components are linked and integrated to shape the Arab environment and determine the features of our culture. There is no point in building without thinking, without a cultural identity and without scientific approaches that respect the environment and the people.

If we adopt an educated stance, we can overcome the major challenges, which include the patriarchal thinking that led to out-of-context architecture, and the problem of individual perspectives on identity that are based either on reviving the past or on imitating the Other.

In light of what has been stated, an Arab concept of architecture will contribute to the establishment of a theory of contemporary Arab architecture. The formulation of this theory is the only way to overcome the absence of a clear social vision that includes an understanding of the Arab Self and that meets the Self’s aspirations.

Raed Arnaout

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