GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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MADE IN JEDDAH - Mapping the cultural identity of the Contemporary ‘Gulf’ City – The case of Jeddah: the Non-Gulf ‘Gulf’ city
Paper Proposal Text :
The question of what constitutes a city’s identity in the Arabian Gulf region is a continuous, and often precarious, attempt to reconcile traditional heritage with contemporary needs & requirements of the city.

Traditionally, the main factor shaping the architectural and urban language of the cities in the region has always been climate. However, since the mid-20th century, many cities in the Arab World, including the city of Jeddah, were subject to what Dr. Khaled Asfour describes as the “cultural mechanism of cutting and pasting” from other Cultures, in effect “shaping much of their architectural thought.”

Moreover, with the advent of the modern era and the concurrent expansion in construction seasonal work force has become the strongest factor influencing architectural and urban form in Jeddah. This inevitable condition has resulted in an influx of architectural vocabulary and building techniques from places as diverse as South-Asia, Egypt, and the Levant on one side, and North-America, Europe, and the Philippines on the other side. These imported building techniques and “mechanism of cutting and pasting” led to a condition of negative context. The other major factor was the lack of participation from local population, which meant that change came without context. This overwhelming phenomenon could be considered a form of Urban Apathy (or perpetual urban ignorance). This complete lack of participation from local citizens in the architectural and urban affairs of the city of Jeddah resulted in a detached, hostile, and scarred Urbanism. These two factors shaped the city of Jeddah's evident urban layout and culture of architectural & infrastructural chaos.

The Case of Jeddah: the Non-Gulf ‘Gulf’ city –
The Jeddah/Makkah region, has always been somewhat of a collector of many cultures, from architecture and visual arts to cuisine and dialect. The region known as the “Hejaz” has been the “blending” pot of the Muslim World for centuries. However, because of its exposure to the severe cultural “radiation” of the 1970s "Oil boom" it "suffered" the effects of the mismatched and experimental urban planning which took place during that era. As a result, the region traditionally considered to be culturally part of the Red Sea basin has entered the Arabian-Gulf club by virtue of its shared urban ailment. This new status brought with it an alienated, detached and borrowed memory. The contemporary city of Jeddah does not remember her identity. It is in a state of dementia. It has lost touch with its strongest and most unique characteristic, being the Gateway to the Holy Cities of Makkah and Al-Madinah. It seems that residents and practitioners alike are at a loss on how to apply or relate with this unique characteristic. Similar to most cities in the Arabian-Gulf region the city of Jeddah is languishing through a severe identity crisis.

How can we identify the DNA (or the genes?) that makes up the identity of the city of Jeddah?
The goal of this research is to present aspects of the contemporary urban construct of the modern city of Jeddah that has undergone an inflated transformation during the past 30 years.
These types of so called “urban phenomena” should be unique to Jeddah, a product of its economics, multi‐ethnic fabric and “Oil boom” exposure, perhaps chaotic as a whole in some parts, but not when viewed in the framework of the contemporary urban history.
These unusual places/occurrences are the by‐products of different frenzied cycles of urban development. However, by documenting and analysing them the observer is able to read and discover an inherent and vibrant identity peculiar to this urban context of Jeddah.

Method: Cultural mapping in the urban context of Jeddah
Using visually structured mapping techniques the study will create inventories of informal fragments left in the wake of the oil boom urbanization and a hybridization of their function(such as the use of the sculptures in the open air museum on the corniche as a picnic area). These will form an intellectual device for engaging with the context, providing the ability to transform a problematic environment into a source of inspiration. It will also detect and document to what degree and in what form have the different economic, social, and cultural factors shaped the urban morphology of the city.

The result will be a visual anthology of what constitutes the DNA of the city of Jeddah, some of which is shared with other Arabian Gulf cities. It is hoped that by highlighting these urban phenomena a shift will result on the emphasis of architectural and urban analysis from an inflated real estate urban intensity to a more pragmatic and grass root examination of urban cultural activity patterns of everyday users.