Impacts Of Globalization Islamic Architecture Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The tension between modernity and tradition has influenced all aspects of today's life, especially in the social, cultural and architectural aspects. This dual structure closely reflects the realities that most modern Muslim societies face today. The impact of modernity and globalization cannot be ignored, which has become one of the most controversial issues in contemporary Islamic architecture. In recent years there have been a considerable number of papers and books regarding the dialogue between old and new or modernity and tradition, which emphasize the role of these challenges in our life. Most of the times becoming dissolved by globalization do not let us pause and rethink the architectural styles we are following.

What are the reasons that we need to talk about the consequences of globalization? Because it is necessary for a dialogue to be created between new horizons that take shape within a globalized context and local values, especially when we discuss an Islamic country like Iran that has experienced an Islamic revolution by its own people. We should rethink the challenges of contemporary Islamic architecture in order to enhance our knowledge and increase our ability to tackle current problems confronting the cultural and architectural need of the changing Muslim society. On the one hand there is an urgent need to revitalize local identities and characters and on the other there is inevitable need for new building materials and technologies.

The architectural character of purpose -built Islamic community centers in non-Muslim countries has been shaped by image of Islamic architecture in the West constructed through the Orientalist discourse, the post-colonial search for identity, and the particularities of postmodern architectural practice.

Nowadays we believe that the architecture of the present day is surely the product of past lessons, even if historicism and classicism are in minority.

There are subjects we need to consider such as the main approaches and groups in contemporary Islamic architecture and their perspectives regarding globalization and regionalism in contemporary architecture.

Since the 1970s and 1980s the economy systems in Middle Eastern countries (as the biggest Muslim societies in the world) like Iran or UAE has been undergoing a process of transformation from international to global. The furiously rapid development of information and telecommunication technologies and infrastructures is bringing advancements such as the worldwide spread of finance and capital markets. Finally the reorganization of these various global functions has caused the transformation of the metropolises that were the historical and traditional centers of international exchanges. Not only did globalization and global approaches become widespread all over the world, but they also became impossible to ignore.

"Globalization" is a word transposed from globalization and localization. The advance of globalization gave rise to simultaneously react to and resist local movements at the various levels of nationalism. This approach showed that globalization and localization are not unilateral processes and cannot be successful without a collaborative approach and always being together. Globalization is driving localization and localization is driving globalization at the same time.

Traditional architecture (Islamic architecture, for an instance) was confronted with western architecture; they are getting compared at all the times. Modern architecture enjoys materials of premium and high quality, total advanced technology of the day and the hunger of new designers, architectures and engineers in inventing new things, but traditional architecture would utilize the same traditional technologies and the same outlines and limitations; as a result this battle did not lead to a desire and pleasant state of things and it was western architecture that won the unfair race. International style and modern architecture were the first true examples of the newly-fashioned styles that dominated the scene of contemporary Islamic architecture. This facing with the new ideas cost traditional architecture its coherence, originality and integrity; however it caused many challenges in the later periods such as the usage of modern material that is totally irrelevant to the function of the buildings, such as mosques with facades covered with English orange tiles or using black marble to make a minaret.


At the turn of the twentieth century the roots of international architecture style had already taken shape in steel-framed, concrete faced and multistory commercial buildings. But it was to take another fifty years and some social reforms to change the contemporary Islamic (religious spaces) architecture's trends before the spirit of modern Islamic architecture began to find a coherent style that could call its own.

2.1. Contemporary architecture of Islamic countries

At the turn of the twentieth century the roots of international architecture style had already taken shape in steel-framed, concrete faced and multistory commercial buildings. But it was to take another fifty years and some social reforms to change the contemporary Islamic (religious spaces) architecture's trends before the spirit of modern Islamic architecture began to find a coherent style that could call its own.

The middle decades of the twentieth century could be called the ascendancy of international style in Middle East, when no one dared to question the validity of its principles. The powerful waves of globalization have influenced the trends of contemporary Islamic architecture in many ways. It has changed architectural education and training, materials and components, ideas and conceptions, political and economic conditions, social and civic values, and technology and the design process substantially.

Taking Iran as an example for modern Muslim society in the Middle East, we can find facts that Islam as a main component of society has a visible effect on architecture and design. The revival of Islamic regional architecture epitomized the revivalist ideas of exponents of the Islamic revolution of Iran that want to dominate Islam as the most determining criterion in all aspect of life, especially in culture, art and architecture. They are looking for a version of traditional architecture that could be implemented in contemporary circumstances. Some radical trend in contemporary Iranian architecture emphasized a backward looking historicism; however this has been among a small minority of architects. Regional movements accuse modern architect of sacrificing traditional values, but on the other hand they accused regional movements of not being diligent in the enhancement of the quality of contemporary Islamic architecture of Middle East.

2.2. Islamic architecture in non-Muslim countries; Mosques and Islamic community centers

As we know representation of Islamic architecture in the West go back at least to the eighteenth century, when European travelers and artists came back from the Islamic world with vivid impressions, which they recorded both in writing and paintings. To them, the most fascinating aspects of the mosque were its domes and minarets. Due to restricted access, the images these foreigners conveyed were generally distorted; minarets and columns were ill-proportioned; curvatures of domes were exaggerated; pointed, shallow, and horseshoe arches were used interchangeably, and so on.

The diversity of backgrounds, origins, and ethnicities of Muslims in non-Muslim societies and their shared values and experiences with fellow Muslims all over the world are important aspects of identity of Muslims in non-Muslim countries. The daily interaction of Muslims with the issues of immigration, multiculturalism, a loosened relationship between the religion and the government, liberalism, stereotypes and racism has shaped the development of their hybrid identity.

These Muslims are striving within this context to develop an Islamic society that is autonomous as well as participatory, one that constantly attempts at adapting to the contradictions of living in non-Muslim countries. This society would nonetheless be vigilant to avoid the hegemony of the dominant culture, and aware of its role in challenging injustices. Efforts to engage this way with society are evidenced by the participation of Muslims in local and national politics, the armed forces, an increased emphasis on education, and a growing economic base supported by Islamic banking institution. Amidst this interaction, Islamic community centers have emerged as clear markers of the distinctly Muslims presence of this population.

The very concept of an Islamic community center in a non-Muslim country represents a set of contradictions. It is not just a mosque for performing prayers; rather it concerns the establishment of a religion, in majority society of non- Muslims who have by and large secularized themselves over the last two centuries. The Islamic communities in these countries are seeking to build for their selves a sense of group identity in a social context that glorifies individualism as opposed to communal interaction. They strive to create permanence and stability in a culture that is increasingly based on mobility, transition and change. The community centers and mosques in these countries struggle to maintain to their ties with the ancient past that they are supposed to link to and far away homelands in a seemingly isolated land. The formation of Islamic community centers indicates a search for identity among Muslims that goes beyond the limitations of ethnic bonds. It also serves as a community institution that helps to consolidate their scattered efforts and secure the right to practice their beliefs.

Most Islamic community centers and Mosques in non- Muslim countries have been designed by architects who base their knowledge of Islamic architecture on their own image of it, inspired by the increasing number of community buildings throughout the western countries, as well as the substantial literature that has been developed in the West on Islamic architecture. The emerging architecture can be seen as a descendent of the Moorish revival style and the architecture of fantasy inspired by Islamic pavilions in the expositions of the nineteenth century. Just as these styles formed part of a general western trend, so has the architecture of the Islamic community center become the part of a wider architectural movement in the west, where the presence of Muslim communities in increasingly felt, especially in the metropolitan centers of Western Europe and North America.

Figure 1

Through their experience in designing Islamic community centers, non- Muslim architects often learn to reconsider some of their myths about Islam, and to change their previous negative images about Muslims. Such experiences not only increase their knowledge of non-Western aesthetic and building traditions, but also expose them to the nature of Islam itself, especially the tenets which are most prominently reflected in the designs for municipal and domestic buildings and mosques. Unfortunately, many of the new Islamic community centers in America are scaled down and impoverished imitations of old monuments The architect of the West Virginia Community Center, William Preston boast that:

"The South Charleston Center is modeled after a famous Islamic house of worship, the Badshahi Mosque, in Lahore, Pakistan (fig. 1). The Badhsahi Mosque is bigger than the Taj Mahal, and is considered the largest house of worship in the world…In the final product, the building in no way resembles any of these monuments, but this is not seen t disappoint either the architect or the client. Faithful imitation was not the intention; rather it is the capturing of the "flavor" of the old (fig. 2)"

Figure 2

The result is often kind of parody, which is presumably found desirable within a community seeking a nostalgic relationship to the past. In this case, the role of the architect is to revive the past and reinterpret its vocabulary in the contemporary architectural language. In the U.S., this is the language of the commercial "strip". The resultant combination of architectural revivalism and the strip mall aesthetic more often captures the essence of an "exotic" Oriental restaurant than the spirit of traditional Islamic architecture. In such buildings the aesthetic features of the mosque- the minaret especially- are appropriated like the sign posts advertising gas stations or fast food restaurants. The distorted expression of many Islamic community centers in the U.S., their vivid colors, and their use of modern industrial materials, contribute to a generally crude aesthetic, one which may be related to the general loss of high skills and craftsmanship, low budgets, and the low level of artistic sophistication on the part of both client and architecture.

On the other hand, it is worth pointing out that in the quest for "self-representation" through architecture, the use of format icons such as domes and minarets has become widespread, not just in non-Islamic countries, but also in many Islamic ones, even where those forms did not belong in the past. While this globalized use of iconic references may seem to be a product of the Muslims' attempt at representing themselves through an architecture that they see as "authentic" and reflects the "essence" of their Islamic culture, it is in fact more closely related to the Western representations of Islamic architecture being perpetuated today by both Muslims and non-Muslim famous architects and scholars around the globe.


At a glance at the discussion it might be possible to conclude that the interest of contemporary Islamic architecture in Glocalization and moderate attitudes is in a good condition and is going to become the main popular style in Contemporary Islamic architecture, especially among the recent generation of young architects. Global-regionalism is too young to find a coherent style that it could call its own; therefore there are several kinds of approaches that could be categorized in this group. Their buildings are suggested by the spirit of traditional Islamic architecture, as well as the utilization of new technologies and materials. This paradoxical strategy is the main specificity of the new generation of contemporary Islamic architects. Their fidelity to the spirit of their ancestors, as well as their keen interest in new technologies and advanced building materials, formed a new generation that could only be called Glocalized.

The architecture of Islamic community centers in non-Muslim countries illustrates issues related to a minority culture attempting, through architectural form, to re-establish continuity and stability, to express identity and to maintain forms of collective memory. The relationship between identity and iconic references should be seen within a broad-based setting, due to the increasing globalization of ideas about "contemporary Islamic architecture" that are constantly moving back and forth between the West and the Islamic world through architectural writing, competitions and commissions.

While Islamic architecture in non-Muslim countries has already contributed to deconstructing the totalizing agendas of identity politics and Orienatalist stereotyping, cycles of representation are difficult to escape.

The focus needs to shift to what kind of identity is being expressed, and where the architectural aspects of collective memory of Muslims can be complemented, overlaid, or even replaced by other systems, so as not to miss the potentials of creative representation. This critical understanding may raise issue of shred human values that can help create a dialogue with non- Muslims through architecture. This can be achieved through fragmentation and perhaps domesticity that reduce the authoritative aspects of formality and humanizes the architectural product. Emphasis needs to be directed toward the expression of transparency, rather than obsession with privacy and exclusiveness.

List of references

Al-Qawasmi, Jamal[2007], Regional Architecture and Identity in the age of Globalization, volume 3, CSAAR, Tunisia

Owen, Graham[2009], Architecture, Ethics and Globalization, Routledge, USA

Guggenheim, Michael[2010], Reshaping Cities, How global mobility transforms architecture and urban form, Routledge, USA

Hillenbrand Robert [2004], Islamic architecture: Form, Function, and Meaning, Columbia University Press, USA

Petruccioli Attilio[2002], Understanding Islamic Architecture, Routledge, USA