1st Edition

Urban Modernity in the Contemporary Gulf Obsolescence and Opportunities

Edited By Roberto Fabbri, Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi Copyright 2022
    288 Pages 64 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    288 Pages 64 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Urban Modernity in the Contemporary Gulf offers a timely and engaging discussion on architectural production in the modernization era in the Arabian Peninsula. Focusing on the 20th century as a starting point, the book explores the display of transnational architectural practices resulting in different notions of locality, cosmopolitanism, and modernity. Contextually, with an eye on the present, the book reflects on the initiatives that recently re-engaged with the once ville moderne which, meanwhile, lost its pivotal function and meaning.

    A city within a bigger city, the urban fabric produced during the modernization era has the potential to narrate the social growth, East–West dynamics, and citizens’ memories of the recent past. Reading obsolescence as an opportunity, the book looks into this topic from a cross-country perspective. It maps, reads and analyses the notion of modern heritage in relation to the contemporary city and looks beyond physical transformations to embrace cultural practices and strategies of urban re-appropriation. It interrogates the value of modern architecture in the non-West, examining how academic research is expanding the debate on Gulf urbanism, and describes how practices of reuse could foster rethinking neglected areas, also addressing land consumption in the GCC.

    Presenting a diverse and geographically inclusive authorship, which combines established and up-and-coming researchers in the field, this is an important reference for academics and upper-level students interested in heritage studies, post-colonial urbanism, and architecture in the non-West.

    The Open Access version of this book, available at www.taylorfrancis.com, has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 license.

    Kishwar Rizvi

    PREFACE: Forms of Engagement: Architectural Modernism and Heritage in the Arab Gulf States

    Roberto Fabbri, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi

    INTRODUCTION: Re-engaging the Modern


    Mohamed Elshahed


    Todd Reisz

    GARDENS AND GENERATORS: Demarcating Dubai’s Modernization

    Roberto Fabbri

    FRAGMENTARIUM: Episodes of Modernity in the Contemporary Kuwait City

    Jason Carlow

    INDUSTRIAL PROMISES: Speculative Thinking for Sharjah’s Industrial Districts


    Michael Kubo

    BUILDING IDENTITY: Transnational Exchange and the Authorship of Modern Gulf Heritage

    Kevin Mitchell

    CHANGING FACADES IN GULF CITIES: Identity, Icons, and Lamentations of Loss

    Jumanah Abbas

    THE CORNICHE: The Representation of Doha’s Waterfront and its Institutional Buildings

    Faisal Almogren

    OPERATIONAL PLANNING: An Alternative View of Doxiadis’ Project in Riyadh

    Edward Nilsson



    Asseel Al-Ragam


    Suha Hasan

    A[N] ABSENT SPACE: 1355

    Trinidad Rico

    MODERNISM IN QATAR: Survival through Reuse

    Marco Sosa, Lina Ahmad

    URBAN PORTRAITS: Preserving the Memory of Modern Architectural Heritage in the United Arab Emirates

    Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi

    CONCLUSIONS: Modernism’s Back and Forth




    Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi is a columnist and researcher on social, political, and cultural affairs in the Arab Gulf states. Al-Qassemi is also founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, UAE. He was an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow from 2014 to 2016, a practitioner-in-residence at the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University in spring 2017 and a Yale Greenberg World Fellow in 2018. Al-Qassemi was a visiting instructor at the Council of Middle East Studies at Yale University, the Center of Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, the American University of Paris, the Islamic Civilization and Societies programme at Boston College and the School of Public Affairs at SciencesPo, Paris. In the Fall 2021 Al-Qassemi was appointed as Kuwait Foundation Visiting Scholar, Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School and Lecturer, School of Arts and Sciences, Brandeis University. Al-Qassemi, along with Todd Reisz, is co-editor of Building Sharjah (Birkhauser, 2021).

    Roberto Fabbri is an architect, researcher, and associate professor at Zayed University, UAE. From 2016 to 2021 he taught at the University of Monterrey, Mexico, and previously at the University of Bologna, Italy, and the American University of Kuwait. As a consultant of the United Nations Development Programme, Roberto participated in the rehabilitation of Kuwait National Museum and completed the transformation of the American Missionary Hospital of Kuwait into cultural hub. He regularly participates in international conferences, recently at Yale, Cambridge, King’s College London, and INHA-Paris, and has published extensively in academic journals, such as Domus; Faces, journal d’architecture; and International Journal of Islamic Architecture. He has published two books on the architectural works of Max Bill (Mondadori 2011, inFolio 2017) and co-authored the double-volume, Modern Architecture Kuwait 1949–89 (Niggli 2016, 2017).


    "An essential read to understand Arabian Peninsula modernism, this book offers precious clues to decode the landscapes of Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait City, Manama, Riyadh, and Sharjah."

    Pascal Ménoret, author of Joyriding in Riyadh

    "Urban Modernity in the Contemporary Gulf is a must-read for anyone interested in architectural history today. Formatted as a collection of scholarly essays by architects and historians, each addressing a different element of the modern building era in the Gulf, this book begins to address, in crucial ways, the enduring blind spots that continue to plague our collective knowledge of the region’s history as manifest through the design, planning, and building of its cities and fabric.

    From a persistent narrative of the sudden emergence of glittering skylines created by benevolent rulers to simplistic notions of a divide between what has been described as the ‘real’ intellectual and cultural heart of the Middle East (embodied by ancient cities such as Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo) and the ‘newcomers’ – the city-states of the Gulf – extant histories have and continue to limit the many alternative narratives needed as foundations to imagine the region’s future(s).

    Through careful, thoughtful, and well-researched case studies across the many rich and varied urban contexts of the Gulf states – from Dubai to Doha, from Riyadh to Kuwait City – Urban Modernity in the Contemporary Gulf offers a necessary and powerful antidote to enduring gaps in knowledge. I have no doubt that this work will become foundational for scholarship in the years to come and that it will inspire a generation of practitioners of the built environment who seek to simultaneously preserve and protect the best of the past and the most promising for the future."

    Amale Andraos, Dean and Professor, Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and Co-Founder, WORKac

    "The architectural boom in the Gulf whizzed by faster than history, theory, and criticism were able to thoroughly examine it. Most studies wondered in amazement at its daring and opulence. Yet, between the state-of-the-art present and an imagined, ancient golden age lay a gaping hole: the modern. This book bridges that distance with a collection of essays by a group of young scholars for whom the modern is the memory of their childhood. From a pan-Arab context to another one of imported Western expertise and local engagement, and on to variations on the notion of heritage, these scholars reconstitute from the fragments of Gulf modernism a historical whole. As such, the book moves beyond nostalgia and offers strategies to restore these cities’ forgotten modernism."

    Nasser Rabbat, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    "Over a period of more than five decades, urban modernity has been, and continues to be, produced and reproduced in various cities across the Gulf. These cities are continuously witnessing dramatic twists and turns that represent a wide spectrum of intents, attitudes, influences, references, and resistances. This is fully articulated in a series of vibrant discussions and intellectual arguments, characterized by a new, impartial openness, of the contemporary condition of architecture and urbanism in the Gulf region with its variety and plurality of perspectives and interests.

    This book offers a refreshing outlook on urban modernity in the contemporary Gulf, with multiple voices thoughtfully categorized into three key sections that capture the recent past, present, and future. Through the utilization of various perspectives and substantial theoretical underpinnings, Roberto Fabbri and Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi draw our attention to the uniqueness and the multifaceted nature of the urban condition in the Gulf, where cities continue to convey much of what counts today as culture, knowledge, identity, and politics. This is an important contribution to the discourse on architecture and urbanism in a continuously and rapidly growing region."

    Ashraf M. Salama, Professor of Architecture, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland