arch-peace editorials

21 August 2016

Designing the Temporary

Continuing on the topic of home; Tahj Rosmarin discusses his proposal for the creation of a new typology of temporary asylum seeker housing in the Netherlands.

The phases and processes of constructing a village using scaffolding houses. ©TahjRosmarin
Earlier this year, in late February, I was lucky enough to be shortlisted in a Dutch design competition that called for the design of new housing solutions for asylum seekers in the Netherlands. The competition, organised by the COA (abbreviation for the ‘Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers’) in collaboration with Government Architect Floris Alkemade, attempted to provide creative alternatives to current typologies for temporary housing. The competition was set up with the intention of developing a prototype that could be implemented across current refugee centres in the Netherlands.

In 2015, the Netherlands had an unprecedented number of incoming refugees, which placed huge pressure on its existing asylum seeker reception infrastructure. According to the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice, 58,000 asylum seekers entered the Netherlands in 2015, with most of the population originating from Syria (a total of 27,000 people). As such, the competition appealed to designers- asking them to offer new possibilities in the way that asylum seekers could be housed.

My initial entry into the competition involved a material that is typically seen as an industrial building system: scaffolding. The proposal saw the huge potential that the system had in providing a flexible structural system for temporary and modular housing. Scaffolding is a system that is able to be assembled extremely quickly, be dis-assembled, be self-built and be incrementally added upon. From the very start of the process, it was my clear intention that the system of scaffolding could be used in a way that encouraged user-participation in all stages of the process. Refugees themselves would be able to build their own houses- with the possibility to appropriate and incrementally extend upon the dwelling as needed after the initial construction phase.

The design consisted of three simple elements: scaffolding, facade and roof panels and a ‘Smart Module’. These standardised and modular elements combined to create a house that was flexible, lightweight and easily assembled. The first element involved using a standardised scaffolding system (Layher’s AllRound SteigerSysteem®) to create 3 x 3 metre scaffolding modules. These ‘modules’ were designed in a way that encouraged incremental growth; they could be attached and dis-assembled extremely easily. An outer, transparent skin protected the whole house from the heavy Dutch rain, while still ensuring that the structural simplicity of the scaffolding was not hidden. The interior cladding of the house was left up to the user: offering a range of materials varying from cardboard to timber to polycarbonate. The final component of the design was a ‘Smart Module’- consisting of a pre-fabricated bathroom and kitchen unit. This unit acted as the spatial and functional ‘core’ of the house (a reference to B.V Doshi’s ‘Core Plus’ concept)- containing all the necessary electrical, sewerage and hydraulic components needed. The house itself aimed to be completely self-sufficient: generating electricity from the solar panels on its roof, collecting rainwater, and providing opportunity for urban agriculture. Prefabricated bathroom units were equipped with water saving toilets and showers, minimising the usage of water and electricity. Self-sufficiency ensured that the environmental footprint of the house was extremely minimal: it did not produce a lot of waste or consume excessive energy.

The biggest challenge when designing for a temporary use, was ensuring that once assembled, the houses could create a positive urban environment. In order to solve the complexities of bridging a formal urban structure with a participatory project, the system of a ’Tartan Grid’ was used. This ‘Tartan Grid’ was used as an urban tool to cater for the varying needs and demands of the incoming participants. Within an 11.5 metre grid, refugees were able to freely decide upon the placement of their own dwelling. Within this boundary, an offset of 2 metres ensured that the streetscape was always protected. The flexibility of the ‘Tartan Grid’ allows for each urban layout to be specific to its site and surroundings, but more importantly to the needs of each particular household. After testing the variety of design responses, it was discovered, that this ‘Tartan Grid’ almost simulated the spatial qualities of informal urban settlements, while still using a formal architectural language. It became clear that the spaces between the buildings became the most spatially vibrant- a phenomenon which is often the case in informal settlements.

The temporary nature of the project allowed for it be envisaged on a variety of sites within the city. The houses could be used to extend the capacity of existing refugee facilities. They could also be placed within open agricultural land, but also upon vacant urban blocks. Urban and semi-urban locations, where direct contact between newcomers and established immigrants and locals, were ideal sites as they provided many opportunities for social integration. The flexible tectonic nature of the system also meant that the houses could be used within existing abandoned buildings, such as factories or office towers. Besides housing, the potential of the scaffolding system also suggested potential in the creation of public or community buildings. These buildings could be built by the community and for the community- a social exercise in citizen collaboration.

In true Dutch fashion, the project was dissected and analysed by a range of professionals (including engineers and scaffolding fabricators), all to ensure that it was build-able and practically applicable. The whole experience was truly immersive, and as a soon to be graduate architect, I am grateful for the opportunity it allowed for me to further develop my own architectural thought processes. The project highlighted the complex design issues that arise when one tries to incorporate elements of informal architecture within a formal design framework. Despite this, it has allowed me to see the potential of an alternative model of architecture- one that combines the potential of the formal in exhibiting order and creating the boundaries of space, with the social conscious and humility of the informal in allowing the individual to play an equal role in the creation of his/her built environment. The challenge of merging these two approaches begins with the de-stigmatisation of informality as negative, whilst simultaneously re-thinking the regulatory control that formal systems enforce.

Project team
Tahj Rosmarin- Exchange student TU Delft, University of Melbourne
Bas Gremmen and Jos Lafeber - TU Delft
Doron Rosmarin - Parvenu Architectural
Ad van Meer - Layher Scaffolding
Mischa Andjelic - IMd Ingenieurs
Niek Brand - myCUBY


Left: Construction axonometric. Right: Floor plan of singular unit. ©TahjRosmarin

Tahj Rosmarin is a graduate of the Bachelor of Architectural Design from the University of Queensland and a current student of the Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne, recently completing an exchange semester at TU Delft in the Netherlands. Since graduating in 2012, Tahj has gained experience working on a varied collection of design proposals; ranging from small- scale residential projects, to large scale urban design work. Through his many architectural and travel experiences abroad, Tahj has become keenly involved in the idea of a bottom up and participatory based architecture. He has recently been shortlisted in a nationwide Dutch competition, A Home Away from Home, run by the Chief Government Architect, and was named a Special Mention in an international design competition, Shelter Global Dencity. To find out more about Tahj visit:

25 July 2016

Waiting for Asylum

Camille Gharbi explores the ability of people to create a home in the most difficult of circumstances. 


Over the last few years, many informal refugee camps have been erected in Paris as a result of the migrant crisis.

People fleeing wars or dictatorships in countries including Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea and Syria are continuously arriving in the city. Some are on their way to Calais, hoping to make it to the UK. Some have given up on their English dreams and are coming back from Calais. Others are willing to seek asylum in France and settle down in the country. Some of them have been in Europe for many years, going from place to place, struggling to survive. Some have just arrived in Europe after several months of harsh journeying through the Middle East or Northern Africa. Most of them have walked their way out of war. They have reached Europe with the idea that life would be better here. At least it would be safe, and they shall be able to live decently, far from threats and fear. As they gather under the bridges of the French capital, their disillusion is hard felt. None of them had anticipated the dirt, the cold, and the loneliness in which they are left. The silence of the State and the public institutions. The violence of the police forces.

So far Paris has no migration office where refugees arriving in the city can get information, orientation, or any basic support. They usually reach the city with the name of a place written on a piece of paper or in a text message, where they know they will meet fellow compatriots. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has recently announced that a UN standards refugee camp, the first of its type in a European capital, will be built in the city. Currently, there is little to welcome migrants arriving in the city. Refugees seeking political asylum have a right to protection and shelter, as written in the French Constitution, but the process of being officially recognised by the government is long. After submitting an application for asylum, refugees must wait for several months to get a first interview, and even longer to get a place to stay in an Emergency Center.

So as they get to Paris, most refugees join the existing informal camps that regularly mushroom in the north of the capital. Once there, they rely on the support of a few citizens and community associations to get food, shelter, blankets, clothes, hygiene products, and information on the asylum process. The  ‘lucky’ ones take shelter in tents, others sleep on cardboard mattresses on the pavement. Once in a while they manage to break into empty buildings and settle down for a while, until being expelled by the police.

On the 31st of July 2015, after several camps had been dismantled throughout the city, about 60 refugees managed to break into an abandoned high school, the Lycée Jean Quarré, with the help of French activists. Three months later, there were about 900 refugees, living in every single part of the building. They lived there in total autonomy, without any support from public institutions. People gathered in the classrooms, which were used as community rooms by day and accommodated sometimes more than fifty men at night.

In September and October 2015 I went almost daily to the Lycée Jean Quarré, to document the place and make ID pictures for asylum seekers. In one of those rooms I met a community of 40 Afghan men, who were sharing their day-to-day struggle for survival. The asylum process is very long and asylum seekers are not allowed to work until they get their papers. Most of those men were spending their days in and around the classroom, waiting. Killing hours by talking, making tea, playing cards and trying to learn French. Time goes slowly when life is on hold.

From those moments I have gathered together a series of photos entitled ‘The Waiting Room’, which depicts the everyday life of this Afghan community in the Lycée Jean Quarré.




















Le lycée professionnel Jean Quarré, établissement désaffecté du 19e arrondissement de Paris, a été investi par une soixantaine de demandeurs d’asile et de sans-papiers le 31 juillet 2015 suite à l’évacuation de campements dans les rues de la capitale. Au jour de son évacuation le 23 octobre 2015 il abritait plus de 1300 personnes d’une quinzaine de nationalités différentes, qui y vivaient regroupées par communauté de pays, installées dans tous les recoins du bâtiment. 

Les salles de cours du lycée, converties en pièces à vivre, y abritaient la nuit jusqu’à une quarantaine de personnes. De salles de classe, elles se sont vues transformées en salle d’attente, lieux de vie communautaire où l’on cohabite difficilement en attendant la suite. 

Dans l’une d’elle, une quarantaine d’afghans ont partagé leur quotidien pendant trois mois. On y dort, on y mange, on y prépare ses papiers, on y prend le thé en échangeant les dernières nouvelles, on y joue aux cartes ou aux échecs. On y étudie le français. Une demande d’asile est un parcours très long, ponctué de rendez-vous souvent espacés de plusieurs mois pendant lesquels les demandeurs sont dans l’incapacité de travailler et ne peuvent rien faire de plus qu’attendre la prochaine échéance. 

Entre les murs de l’ancienne salle de cours, les jours s’écoulent lentement. 

En septembre et octobre 2015, je me suis rendue quasi quotidiennement au lycée Jean Quarré, pour documenter le lieu et réaliser des photos d’identité pour les dossiers de demande d’asile des réfugiés. Les liens noués avec certains d’entre eux m’ont permis d'observer de manière privilégiée ces moments de vie en suspens.

Camille is an architect and photographer based in Paris. After graduating in architecture, she worked in several large architecture practices in France and abroad, while developing photographic projects on the side. Her keen knowledge of the built environment led her to specialise in architecture and urban landscape photography. She works on personal projects (such as the Waiting Room) in parallel to her commissions from architecture offices, government offices, private companies and community organisations. Several of Camille's documentary works have been exhibited including; 'The Crossing', a photography series about migrants, at Gallery IMMIX in Paris (2015) and 'Vodoun Child', a portrait series from Benin, as part of Rencontres Photographiques du 10eme in Paris (2013) and photography festival MetzPhoto (2011).

11 June 2016

Urban resilience challenges, Can learning from tradition of the past help?

Solmaz Hosseinioon
June 2016

 (Architects for Peace Goal 2: Promote and defend sustainable and resilient urban environments.)

In times of rapid changes and transformations which new paradigms, problems, and challenges are arising fast, it is felt more than ever that we require new viewpoints for urban decision making and planning. Resilience thinking is the new lens for looking at the world we live in to deal with ever changing problems. It has been applied in many fields for dealing with complex and volatile issues. Importance of resilience framework is ever increasingly felt in various aspects of built environment and human settlements from international scales to community levels. Many of these challenges are global such as climate change, and vary in different countries such as natural and man-made hazards or peak oil. Resilience is becoming a priority among pressing urban issues, for example UNISDR has set the resilience of cities as an important agenda for all urban institutions around the world (UNISDR 2011).

Resilience meanings are still contested (Adger2003).” Resilience concept has started a long journey from several disciplines such as engineering, psychology and ecology and has reinforced its use in development debates. Resilience is “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks (Walker, Holling et al.2004)”. It is “a measure of the ability of systems to absorb changes of state variables, driving variables and parameters and still persists (Holling 1973)”. “Resilience is better conceptualized as adaptability than as stability (Handmer and Dovers 1996: 504)”. The main goal of resilience theory expansion is the rising the need to develop ways to deal with the increasing global changes in different scales, from local to global and the significance of finding ways for adaptation to change: sudden or continuous.

Resilience of what to what?
One of the important points we have to remember about resilience is that its definitions and its applications are relative and multifaceted. Resilience is neither good or bad (Carpenter et al 2001), hence, giving a clear definition for resilience depends a lot on what a system is facing because its aspects change. We should focus on what gets transformed rather than on what parts return to the pre- disaster status (Vale & Campanella 2005)”. Resilience attributes are assemblages with interrelated elements in dynamic cycles which are evolving continously. Adaptation attributes have different implications, depending on the type of resilience, inner or outer stressors, expectations and domains of practices and the locality of cases, from urban farming to disaster management, terrorism and climate change. “Measuring resilience needs specification of the spatial, temporal scales using models it is crucial to specify what system state is being considered resilience of what, and what perturbations are of interest, resilience to what (Carpenter et al 2001).

Urban Resilience and adaptation
Although resilience has had versatile uses in various disciplines from economy to biology and ecology.    It has found its established place in urban studies. Although resilience is a relative concept, resilient urban areas (in any scale) have mutual attributes. “A resilient city is one that has developed capacities to help absorb future shocks and stresses to its social, economic, and technical systems and infrastructures so as to still be able to maintain essentially the same functions, structures, systems, and identity (McCubbin 2001)”.
Adaptation capacities include a vast range of characteristics vary due to the type of resilience is sought from climate change to natural disaster management, terrorism to economic recession or socio-ecological transformations. These characteristics which resonate with urban design principal, include adaptability, robustness, connectivity, diversity, density, mix, social inclusion, self- organization and redundancy and place attachment. There is a lot be learned and tested in practice
Although the recent attention to importance of urban resilience is new, most countries and cities have shown their adaptation and resilience throughout history, rising from phoenix after wars, disasters and turmoil and hardships. Vale and Campanella (2005) have shown many examples of such cities.
For example, Iranian cities have endured similar challenges facing harsh and dry climates and have had creative ways for adaptation to their living environments. They have been vulnerable throughout the history, in comparison to modern times. There are many lessons we can learn from their traditions for coping with hardships and climatic situations. They have acted and lived as part of natural ecosystems and not alienated as the modern viewpoints in which humans are detached from their environment. Their self-sufficiency and self-organization has helped them survive many wars and attacks as well.
At this point in time, we have started to consider cities as complex adaptive systems and ourselves as parts of them. This resurrection can be assisted by looking back at how aboriginal people or ancient Iranians coped with their climatic challenges and made the best of their natural habitat. The best examples in Iran are Qanats (the oldest one is located in Gonabad which is 2500 years old), Badgirs[1] and courtyard houses which have been built several thousand years ago (image1).

Image1: the architecture of Qanats and their representation on the ground surface

These lessons have spread throughout the region from Persia (Iran) helping with global resilience as learning and knowledge is part of adaptation capacity making. We can now see this architectural phenomenon has moved to many countries from China to Chile throughout history (image 2).

Image2: Spread and learning of adaptation methods (Qanat construction)

Climate change and cooling is one the biggest challenges across the globe. Most countries have signed international treaties to accept the responsibility for cooling their environments. The modern cooling heating systems have exacerbated the urban heat island effect and the street coverage and materials which are used for urban surfaces have made the situation worse. Badgirs (image 3) are good examples of conducting the air flow through shaded areas and over water for natural cooling of air for the houses. The shades made by arches, Sabats and domes as roofs (image 4) in dry arid regions of Iranian cities create a rhythm of shade and sun which in turn cause natural breeze which cools the environment in a natural way.

Image 3: Badgirs for passive cooling of the buildings, an adaptive architectural solution created in Iran and now used in many countries in the region.

Image 4: Sabats in Ardakan, yazd and Dezful, making a rhythm of shade and sun for maximing cliamtic comfort in hot arid cities in Iran.

At a time where modern rigid ways of planning and design cannot help us cope with the unpredictable ever-changing problems, the indigenous and traditional ways of life can teach us a lot about adaptation ways. Iran has gone through and survived numerous challenges throughout its history like harsh and yet versatile climatic situations, drought, wars and invasions. It is time to look back and learn from architectural traditions and adaptation methods such as revitalising the traditional passive ways used for cooling and heating in countries like Iran. Unlike contemporary Iran which has recently realized the importance of urban resilience and has just started to grasp it significance, Australia is fully engaged in moving towards resilience. Australia and Iran both have versatile climates although both have vast arid regions. They have a variety of ethnic groups and communities which may rise similar challenges. But the type and extent of their developments are quite different. However, the challenge of coping with climate change and global warming is universal and common round the world. We can certainly share and assist each other in a challenge which will severely affect life on our blue planet no matter where and how we live.


Adger, W. N. (2003)."Building resilience to promote sustainability" IHDP Update, pp1-3
Holling, C. S. (1973). Resilience and stability of ecological systems, Annual review of ecology and systematics: 1-23.

Carpenter, S., & Walker, B. et al. (2001). "From metaphor to measurement: resilience of what to what?", Ecosystems, 4(8): 765-781.

Handmer, J. W. & S. R. Dovers (1996). "A typology of resilience: rethinking institutions for sustainable development." Organization & Environment 9(4): 482-511.

Holling, C. S. (1973). "Resilience and stability of ecological systems", Annual review of ecology  and systematics: 1-23.

McCubbin, L. (2001). "Challenges to the Definition of Resilience."

Walker, B. & Holling, C.S. et al. (2004). "Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social--ecological Systems", Ecology and society 9(2): 5.

Vale, L. J. & Campanella, T.J. (2005). The resilient city: How modern cities recover from disasters, USA: Oxford University Press.

Solmaz Hosseinioon
Solmaz has a PhD in Urban design from the University of Melbourne. She is an architect and urban designer and is also involved in teaching and research in the field. She has always been passionate about research and its applications in the real world to increase to quality of life foe people. She has been involved in practice in consulting engineers and has always been concerned about current urban issues and challenges. Her extensive research on urbanism and architecture issues have been turned into many publications.
The underlying theme of her experience is urban design and quality of life in the public realm, urban resilience, sustainability, informality, urban regulations and their role in shaping and transforming our environments, informal settlement and vulnerable and sensitive urban areas including historic areas.
She has been involved in preparation of master, structure and local plans, urban design guidelines, frameworks and briefs, development codes and regulations. In addition she has worked on preparation of rural plans, DRR plans via urban planning regulations.
Her PhD research is “Resilience versus formalization in the informal city” which studies the effects of formalization (urban upgrading regulations) on resilience and adaptation capacities of informal settlements in Tehran conurbation, Iran.

[1] Wind channels which conduct air flow underground for passive cooling of the building

20 April 2016


Ashraf M. Salama
Professor and Chair of Architecture
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom

April 2016

What is now the rapidly emerging global region was a series of oases settlements or fishing hamlets and later small port settlements just a few decades ago.  The relationship between the ruler and ruled have changed to asymmetric power affiliation. From a tribal tradition of people making their decisions about their own environment under a tribal leadership, the ‘Modern State’ became an organizing body and a legal authority that represents the will of its people. It gave itself the right to intervene and make decisions about people’s most aspects of life (1). Guided by the principles of the ‘Modern State,’ the region is in a continuous process of repositioning itself on the map of international architecture and urbanism with different types of expression of its qualities in terms of economy, environment, culture, and global outlook. 

Based on my recent work on Urban Traditions, which is published in TDSR (2), in this article, I reflect on urbanity on the Arabian Peninsula and on some of these aspects with reference to classical and recent discussions on the notion of tradition. The concerned and concerted reactions to the global condition in the form of economic diversification have become an integral component of most national development strategies and consequently led to reshaping the notion of tradition in such a rapidly growing context.

The multiplicity of views, interpretations, and definitions of ‘tradition,’ as a concept, which were critiqued by Nazar AlSayyad in his latest book Traditions: The "Real", the Hyper, and the Virtual in the Built Environment as well as his earlier writings (3), reveal deeper insights into the understanding of urban traditions in the peninsula. The traditionality of the process and that of the product proposed by Rapoport offer insights in this context (4). The outcomes of cultural norms and practices both in the past and the present of the Peninsula involve processes, tribal affiliations, contemporary decision-making capacities, ruling and social systems, and family structures that form integral parts of a process by which the built environment is produced (5). Therefore, the analysis of governance models and social orders and agents within a society become critical when debating urban tradition (6).

Urban tradition is not necessarily representing what is ‘authentic.’ Current practices suggest that tradition could be imagined, manufactured, and packaged, and sold (7), where debates of academics and intellectuals always suggest the recycling of elements of traditional architecture as a way of perpetrating character upon the city. Old palaces or souqs were refurbished to become cultural enterprises and potentially visual references for future practices. This is clearly palpable in the rise of the reconstruction of historical buildings, real or imagined, such as Bastakiya district in Dubai and Souq Waqif in Doha (Figure 1), or commercial and cultural projects developed around historic cores or on waterfront developments such Kasr Al Hokm in Riyadh or Souq Sharq in Kuwait (Figure 2).  These are examples of interventions that utilize traditional imaging at various scales to impress local societies by their roots and at the same time vaunt the marketing profile of the city. More recent examples of urban regeneration that utilize elements from traditional settlements attempt to depict a real or imagined past such as Msheireb urban regeneration project in the heart of Doha (Figure 3). The project was instigated, and is being supported, by the ruling family to create a contemporary national urban image.

Fig 1: Commercial or cultural projects developed around historic cores or on waterfront developments

Fig.2: The recycling of elements of traditional architecture as a way of perpetrating character upon the city

Fig.3: Msheireb urban regeneration: Creating a contemporary national urban image in Doha

Throughout the history of the Peninsula it is evident that most of architecture and urban traditions were shaped by common people without the help of professionals. However, there were series of key incidents that reveal important roots toward understanding the what, who, why, and how of urban traditions in recent years. Since World War I, the peninsula has been witnessing continuous transformations with varied paces of development relevant to the intensity, value, and impact of key socio-political, cultural, or socio-economic incidents. A mapping of these and their relevancy to shaping urban tradition was undertaken (8). While such a mapping may delineate that impact of socio-political structures, it conveys the continuous impact of political, economical, organizational events on shaping the urban environment. Thus, the role of governments and rulers should be underscored.

In the western Arabian Peninsula, along the coast of the Red Sea, the fishing town of Jeddah and its nearby settlements and hamlets developed into a major harbor city. Jeddah was the ancient arrival point for many devout Muslim pilgrims heading to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Although the western part of the peninsula from Jerusalem to Sana’a was under the control and administration of the Ottoman caliphate from the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century, the influence of the Ottoman rulers on the built environment was rather minimal apart from the importation of certain building materials and construction techniques. The most important cities in the western part of the Arabian Peninsula were Mecca and Medina because of their religious significance and therefore decisive political and religious role. Many smaller settlements were founded in the western highlands and the central plateau, including the fortified hamlet of Riyadh. Riyadh was a traditional crossroads for two important caravan routes, one of which was connected to the coasts of the Gulf, while the other led to more established settlements along the Red Sea; as a result of its strategic location and importance, Riyadh soon developed into a flourishing oasis town.

In the context of their history and the geopolitical location of Gulf cities, astute regional rulers recognized the potential to develop them into viable trading hubs between Asia, Europe and Africa. On the other side of the Peninsula and along the Gulf coast, a number of deep-water harbors have been built in order to increase capacities for global trade. In addition to harbors, international airports have been eventually established then expanded and new airports launched in order to create air cargo and passenger hubs. The development of trade as an essential part of a future economy has been accelerated through the introduction of the concept of ‘free trade zones’ (FTZ) in the Gulf by the Emirate of Dubai. In 1985, the first FTZ was established in Jebel Ali, this attracted many companies because of minimal or no taxation and modern, sophisticated infrastructure. Reduced bureaucratic requirements and less restrictive labor legislation have attracted the interest of international entrepreneurs and investors in establishing businesses in Dubai. Similarly, over the following decade, several FTZs were founded in the Emirate Kuwait, the Kingdom of Bahrain and, most particularly in other emirates in the UAE. The size of FTZs, which have generally been located near airports or harbors, varies large industrial areas such as Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone in Dubai or Science Parks such as Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) in Doha.

One of the unique aspects of contemporary urbanism in the Gulf is the new generation of desert and coastal cities supplied with state-of-the-art infrastructure, partially designed to attract global investment and well-trained expatriate residents that will help transform these newly built shells into vibrant and desirable hubs. As a result, urban governance in Gulf cities has been the initiator and facilitator of space for evolving economic interaction and transnational practices, as for example, recent public investment in the development of infrastructure and the promotion of attractive marketing and branding strategies and perks to attract international attention. This has resulted in the cities themselves becoming brands for investment; today’s regional rulers have found themselves in the role of CEOs managing urban development as a ‘business idea.’(9)
The majority of knowledge-economies that initially relocated to the Gulf in connection with the execution of these ‘business ideas’ have mostly been investment banks and construction-related companies as well as international branch campuses.

Fig. 4: New Mixed Use and Residential Districts in Dubai (top) and Doha (bottom)

As a direct consequence of the growing role of the private sector in urban development, major developers have started to operate as managers of large-scale developments and blueprints, in the form of new housing districts, business parks and mixed-use projects  (Figure 4). One interesting transformation is the fact that the public sector has now taken over the government’s former function of organizing and developing the infrastructural supply of these projects. However, all decisions related to the major planning of developments and the distribution of land have remained in the hands of the rulers and their top officials, many of whom have become direct or indirect associates and sponsors of these developments. Although planning authorities remain in control at the helm, real estate developers have more freedom and opportunities to design and implement development master plans individually with far fewer restrictions. This new decentralized form of governance, based on case-by-case decision-making, has led to new dynamics in urban developments and rapid growth on one hand, and an increasing lack of infrastructural consolidation on the other. In essence, in most cities in the Gulf, the liberalization and opening up of markets driven by a hub vision, in combination with large-scale public investments, has resulted in and impacted on a new urban transformation process.

At the dawn of the new millennium, regional rulers, decision-makers, and top government officials started to demonstrate a stronger and more attentive interest in architecture, urban development projects and real estate investment; this concerted interest and attention have resulted in a new influential phase impacting on the development of architecture and urbanism in the Arabian Peninsula over the past two decades. With such a focused and vested interest and investment, it can be argued that there is a dramatic departure from the typical understanding of tradition which is created by and for ordinary people to an emerging understanding that present itself at the interface between the authority and the public. Today, many cities are experiencing rapid growth coupled with fast track urbanization processes; this is marked by large-scale projects, new educational and residential environments, and mixed-use developments that serve specific segments of society; the rich and affluent rather than the masses (10).

Image credits:
·       1.a. (Courtesy of Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Geneva, Switzerland.
·       1.b. (Courtesy of Archnet-IJAR 2007 from an article by K. Asfour, Volume 1, Issue 1)
·       2.a. & b. (A. Salama 2016)
·       3. (Courtesy of Msheireb Properties, 2011).
·       4. top and bottom (A. Salama, 2015).

Notes / References
1.      A. M. Salama. Urban traditions in the contemporary lived space of cities on the Arabian Peninsula. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, 27(1) (2015), pp.21-39.

2.      B. Hindess, Discourses of Power: From Hobbes to Foucault (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), and C. Pierson, The Modern State (London: Routledge, 1996).  See also A. Al-Lahham. Traditionalism or traditiona-Lieism: Authentication or fabrication? ArchNet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research, 8(3) (2014), pp.64-73.

3.      N. AlSayyad, Traditions: The ‘Real’, the Hyper, and the Virtual in the Built Environment, (London: Routledge, 2014), p.30 and N. AlSayyad and E. Tomlinson, "Traditional Environments," in Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, (Isle of Man, UK: Eolss Publishers Co Ltd, 2011).
4.      A. Rapoport, “On the Attributes of Tradition,” in N. AlSayyad and J. P. Bourdier (eds.), Dwellings, Settlements, and Tradition: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989), pp. 77-105.
5.        Suggesting an analogy between the spatial formation and social construction Janet Abu-Lughod emphasized the process aspect of tradition, and introduced the term ‘traditioning’ to denote the series of actions that ultimately create an environment. See J. Abu-Lughod. “Disappearing Dichotomies: First World-Third World; Traditional-Modern,” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, Vol.3, No.2 (1992), pp.7-12.
6.     Implicitly and explicitly in various contexts within the Arab World, scholars over the past decade or so have instigated discussions and offered examples on social governance delineating its value in understanding urban traditions. See M. Khechen, “Beyond the Spectacle: Al-Saha Village, Beirut,” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, Vol.19, No.1 (2007), pp.7-21, and M. G. Abdelmonem, “The Practice of Home in Old Cairo: Towards Socio-Spatial Models of Sustainable Living,” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, Vol. 23, No.2 (2012), pp.35-50.
7.      Dismissing the assumption that tradition represents the authentic product of a community, Alsayyad proposed that tradition could also be catalogued, packaged, imagined, and sold. Still, he maintained that traditional environments continue to represent places where real social encounters take place. See N. AlSayyad, “Global Norms and Urban Forms in the Age of Tourism.” In N. AlSayyad (ed.), Consuming Tradition-Manufacturing Heritage  (London: Routledge, 2001), pp.1-33.
8.      I was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture in Bahrain and the Arab Center in Beirut commissioned a study of the evolution of architecture and urbanism in the peninsula to the author. The study revealed that key socio-political events and institutional decisions have had direct dramatic impact on urbanism.  Key findings of this study are included in the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Catalogue Pavailion in Venice Architecture Biennale 2014. See A. M. Salama, “A Century of Architecture in the Arabian Peninsula: Evolving Isms and Multiple Architectural Identities in a Growing Region,” in G. Arbid (ed.), Architecture from the Arab world (1914-2014): A Selection (Ministry of Culture, 2014), pp. 137-143.
9.      M. Davis, “Sand, Fear and Money in Dubai,” in M. Davis and D.B. Monk (eds), Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism (New York, NY: The New Press) pp. 49–67.
10.  New large-scale interventions intended for rich locals and high profile expatriate communities are on the rise from Abu- Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island Development to Bahrain Financial Harbour, and from Kuwait’s City of Silk to Qatar’s City of the Future, Lusail.


Dr. Ashraf M. Salama is full professor of architecture and Chair of the Department of Architecture, University of Strathclyde Glasgow, United Kingdom since 2014. He was the founding Chair of the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at Qatar University, Doha, Qatar (2009-2014) and was a Reader in Architecture at Queen’s University Belfast (2008-2009).  He is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy-FHEA and the Royal Society of the Arts-FRSA. He holds B.Arch, M.Arch, and Ph.D. from the Al Azhar University in Egypt and North Carolina State University, USA (1987, 1991, 1996). He has held permanent, tenured, and visiting positions in Egypt, Italy, and Saudi Arabia. With varied experience in academic research, teaching, design and research based consultancy, Professor Salama bridges theory and design and pedagogy and practice in his professional activities. He was the Director of Consulting at Adams Group Architects in Charlotte, North Carolina (2001-2004).  Professor Salama has written numerous articles and papers in the international refereed press; authored and co-edited nine books: New Trends in Architectural Education: Designing the Design Studio (North Carolina, USA), Human Factors in Environmental Design (Cairo, Egypt), “Architectural Education Today: Cross-Cultural Perspectives” (Lausanne, Switzerland), Architecture as Language of Peace (Napoli-Roma, Italy), Design Studio Pedagogy: Horizons for the Future (Gateshead, United Kingdom), and Transformative Pedagogy in Architecture and Urbanism (Solingen, Germany). His latest books include:  Demystifying Doha: On Architecture and Urbanism in an Emerging City (Ashgate 2013), Architecture Beyond Criticism: Expert Judgment and Performance Evaluation (Routledge 2014), and Spatial Design Education: New Directions for Pedagogy in Architecture and Beyond (Ashgate 2015). Professor Salama is the chief editor of the International Journal of Architectural Research (featured on Archnet) , associate editor of Open House International-OHI, and serves on the editorial boards of numerous internationally refereed journals and on the scientific and review boards of several international organizations.