Urban traditions in the contemporary lived space of cities on the Arabian Peninsula

Salama, Ashraf M. (2015) Urban traditions in the contemporary lived space of cities on the Arabian Peninsula. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, 27 (1). pp. 21-39. ISSN 1050-2092

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This article aims to answer the question “Whose tradition?” in relation to the contemporary architecture and urbanism of the Arabian Peninsula. It first contextualizes tradition in the region within the geocultural politics of the Arab World and identifies key factors that shaped its traditional settlements, including tribal governance, social systems, building materials, and construction techniques. The article then contends that the region’s urban traditions have been transformed from ones shaped by common people to ones shaped by the elite, in which the role of rulers is heavily emphasized. To explore this view, it analyzes two representative scenes in the contemporary urban lived space of the region, using examples from Dubai and Doha. These are articulated in terms of the emergence of elite enterprises, persistent patterns of social and ethnic segregation, and a continuing struggle to construct identity. Conclusions drawn from the discussion delineate key answers to the question “Whose tradition?” But a framework of examination is also introduced that emphasizes that lived space and the traditions that ensue from it cannot be seen in isolation from other types of space — such as conceived and perceived space. There needs to be a new cycle of knowledge production about cities in the region that integrates concern for all three (lived, conceived and perceived space) to better understand its traditions.