Middle Eastern architecture between identity and modernity
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May 22, 2009—
Six history and architecture experts from across the region assembled on LAU’s Beirut campus April 30 for a conference on the development of architecture in the Middle East from the late 19th century to the present.
The event, entitled “Venues of Tradition: Architecture in the Middle East Between Identity and Modernity,” was organized by LAU’s Institute of Islamic Art and Architecture.
The guest speakers presented their perspectives on the influences of modernism, globalism, and orientalism on the development of architectural transitions in the Middle East.
According to Dr. Abdallah Kahil, IIAA director, such key questions have been understudied by scholars in the region.
What makes this worse is that “in the West this field is very advanced, with continuous research about architecture which we are not exposed to,” Kahil said.
“The isolation in our region, where each [nation] believes in its own history and development as separate from its neighbors, is not only wrong, but dangerous,” he said.
“The common history of Islamic art and architecture has an enormous energy, dynamism and exchange between all these geographic regions,” he added.
Guest speaker Dr. Zeynep Çelik, professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, agreed with Kahil, regarding the conference as a significant step in strengthening architectural research in the Middle East.
Other presentations focused on the development of architecture in specific countries in the region.
Architect and architectural historian Dr. Mina Marefat, a Fulbright scholar, presented an overview of modern architecture in Tehran from the first Pahlavi rule to the present.
Caecilia Pieri, author of Baghdad Arts Déco: Architectures de Brique 1920–1950, led an insightful presentation on the development of architecture in Iraq.
Dr. Sibel Bozdogan, professor of architectural history and theory at Harvard University, explored the changes of residential architecture in Istanbul in the age of globalism.
Dr. Rasem Badran, an award-winning Palestinian architect raised in Jordan, presented his designs, and explored images of nature and man-made structures to illustrate the mere insignificance of the current debates in the architectural world in comparison to the true heartbeat of the craft.
“In the end, architecture is a reflection of the human being, of nature. We must observe, listen, and absorb these as significant,” concluded Badran.
At the end of the conference, prominent Lebanese architect Assam Salam offered his assessment of the main issues echoed by the speakers.
Salam urged audience members and academics to consider the significance of defining a suitable Middle Eastern identity, which will stand among international identities.
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