Merging Context Between Past, Present and Future

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Merging context between past, present and future

In order to understand how the physical environment of the city icons came about, one can look at it as a 'whole' and attempt to provide an interpretation of urban forms through their historical and cultural contexts. We will not deal with elements of urban forms, but look at the forms themselves as part of a broader Islamic tradition.

The Past

The preservation of tradition works at different levels reflects if anything, differing contemporary functions and ideological needs (e-g. the need for legitimacy) by ascendant elites or their rivals. On one level, there is the effort to preserve the best examples of traditional buildings as exemplars, sources of contemporary inspiration and/or custodians of part of what its bearer regard as their contemporary cultural identity.

On a different level, the preservation and reuse of individual buildings in contemporary society raises serious functional and ideological problems. Yet, such adaptive reuse appears to be the only possibility of maintaining vitality for the buildings and avoiding the museum approach to important elements of an organic living city.

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The preservation of a single building, whether reused or not, is different from the preservation of the character of an area and, here, different criteria come into play. Of these, the sense of urban context is a fundamental one, as is the question of scale, proportions, street alignments, fenestration, articulation of volumes, relations between solids and voids, and, most of all, activities permitted in the public space and inter-relationship between the public and private domains.

Decoding Symbols of the Past. Architects must acquire the sophistication to read the symbolic content of this heritage in a manner that enriches their ability to produce relevant buildings for today and tomorrow, and to guide the "authentification" efforts between the twin shoals of Kitsch and alien inappropriateness.

This sophistication can only come through a strengthened educational process which engenders in future architects the critical sense required to decode the symbolic content of the past in a realistic, as opposed to an ideologically mystifying, fashion. This, of course, necessitates a broad knowledge of the methodology as well as the content of historical studies, a sense of the growth of societies as a process of successive attempts at tantalization and above all an ability to see the built environment of the past as it was perceived by contemporaries.

Understanding the Present

The societies of the world are inescapably societies in transition, however much some members of those societies may try to avoid this basic process by denying it, or by absolutising a past which exists only in their own minds as a counterweight to the present reality they deny and the future which they fear. The demographic, technical, economic, cultural, political and ideological components of this transition process are well known. Drowning in a flood of Western technology and cultural imports that are frequently ill-matched to local conditions and insensitive to cultural traditions, societies are today struggling to create a cultural environment that provides them with a viable sense of self-identity and which is suited to regional and national conditions. Authenticity for an Indonesian will not be the same as authenticity for a Moroccan. Yet there is this fine thread of commonality of the nature of the search with variability of the conditions under which it is undertaken. This is part of the creative genius of culture, whose hallmarks have always been unity with diversity. Contemporary "regionalism" must express itself in new and contemporary ways. This truism must be restated frequently in the face of a strong current that seeks refuge in perpetuating the myth that traditional vernacular architecture is enough. This "escape into the past" must be forced to recognize the scale and technology that increasingly link and undergird the urban built environment. Slavish copying of the past is not the answer. For those who would try, the dimensions of modern technology and its related infrastructural requirements will quickly remind them that the path of excellence requires creativity.

Anticipating and Preparing for the Future

A timeless continuity: reading the signs. Architects must be masters of a wide range of skills and their deployment - a range fat greater than architectural education currently prepares them for. First, architects must be able to decode the past so they can understand how their predecessors viewed their past, present, and future. Armed with this comparative knowledge, they must secondly attempt to read the signs and trends of the present. This is particularly tricky as, while buildings last a long time, current trends may prove ephemeral, and become so within the space of a few years. Third, architects must not only think of their single building, but of its relationship to the wider community. Fourth, and most significantly, they must pull all of this analysis together and design and implement a product which, over its lifetime, can justly win a place in the timeless continuity of world architecture, as have the great buildings of the past which, speak of excellence, not of an age, but for all time. (Serageldin, Ismail, 1991)

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Significantly, the historical and civilizational depth of a nation play a vital role in providing impetus toward narrowing the technological gap which resulted in creating two different worlds. One is the place of the human beings who belong to the industrial world, and the other is for those who survive on minor industries. That gab generated more uncalled-for racism into this world.([i]) Amid these circumstances, the non-industrial nations turned to centers for modern alienation. All the activities relating to economy have been ideologized, the specialized scientific discoveries were monopolized away from them, and generally, measures were secured to keep the human being of the less developed countries in a state of scientific deterioration to the interest of the industrial countries.([ii]) Some researchers predict that in the next three decades, the scope of the scientific and technological branches of knowledge that are exigent for the progress of nations will be identified. This is because, in the coming period, the contemporary generation will witness the hugest scientific and technological advancements.([iii]) The scientific technological gap places the modern Arab thought in a permanent challenge, that is primarily financial, because the Arab nations, like in the western countries, need to allocate handsome funds for science and technology in order to bring about a scientific uprising in their countries.

The West calculatedly attempts to marginalize the role of the Arab individual in the global production rates. Consequently, he will become a consumer of others’ productions, namely western products, intellectually as well as economically. The more the scientific technological gap grows, the more consumptive that individual will become. Breaking free from that technological dependence can be attained through continuous scientific work and commitment, and through delving deeper in the field, and sparing no time in establishing strong financial and moral infrastructures. Time is running out more than ever.([iv]) A group of exterior factors are created to mold the Arab thought in a certain way, as a means of obstructing the efforts done to retrieve an authentic identity, and to keep it from taking right steps in the direction of scientific and technological progress. As matters stand, it seems that the wars fought by the occupied nations for independence had aspired for intellectual independence mainly. The Arab nations must engage in a scientific and technological competitive war in order to meet the challenges posed by west. It is of paramount importance to find the road to this.([v])

Potentially, the basic steps in drawing a plan for development that accords with our deep-rooted Arab-Islamic cognitive principles can be achieved, mainly through devising contemporary scientific-based intellectual frameworks. The function of these frameworks will be to scrutinize and refine the heritage in an honest objective manner. As a result, a scientific Arab power of a distinct identity will emerge to the world with steadfast steps.


[i]- NāgÄ« NuÊ»mān: “Al-ʻĀlam al-‘Arabi ‘alā ‘Atabat al-Qarn al-Waḥid wal-‘IshrÄ«n,” Lebanon, Dār Luqmān for Culture, 1993.

[ii]- SamÄ«r AmÄ«n: “Al-Tarakum ‘alā á¹¢aʻīd ‘Ä€lami: Naqd Nadhariyat al-Takhalluf,” translated by: Ḥasan QubaisÄ«, Beirut, Dār ibn KhaldÅ«n, p. 406.

[iii]- Khayr al-DÄ«n ḤasÄ«b: “Al-Mushrif wa Ra’Ä«s al-FarÄ«q,” “Mustaqbal al-Ummah: al-Taḥadiyat wal-Khiyārāt” “Al-TaqrÄ«r al-Nihā’Ä« le-MashrÅ«Ê» Isteshrāf Mustaqbal al-Waá¹­an al-‘Arabi,” Beirut, Center for Arab Unity Studies.

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[iv]- Antoine Zaḥlān: “Al-Ê»Arab wa Taḥadiyāt al-‘Ilm wal-Taqānah: Taqaddum min dÅ«n TaghyÄ«r,” Beirut, Center for Arab Unity Studies, first edition, March, 1999, p. 19.

[v]- Dr. Riyadh al-Asadi: “Al-Fikr al-Ê»Arabi al-Muʻāsir, wa Imkanāt al-istīʻāb al-Jadidah,” Sep, 2005.