Beirut, Lebanon, 26 November 1999 — Are architects building what their societies want? Do societies want what their architects build? As their societies change, those who build and design in the Middle East are questioning whether they are creating the environments those societies want.
Planners, architects and educators from across the Middle East who design challenged each other over a 3-day symposium organized by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, in collaboration with the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese Order of Engineers and Architects, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture of Lebanon.
From Egypt to Iraq, Syria to Yemen, the burning issues facing planners and architects reflect crises faced by societies in each of these countries. Whether buildings and spaces are designed and built to respond to the needs of their populations. Whether cities are planned to take account of human aspirations. How will an architect or planner in Amman know what is happening in Doha or Damascus or Cairo? Whether what is being built submerges traditional forms and cultural identity under an imported modernism. Is globalisation overwhelming local cultures or are outside influences being assimilated as part of a natural evolution of cultural identity?
Issues confronted during the Symposium ranged from the role of the private sector in rehabilitating cities such as Beirut to the images of society that contemporary architecture reflects in others such as Sana'a. Contrasting examples of attitudes towards urban planning featured minimally regulated environments in the UAE and detailed planning and zoning requirements in Oman.
Future directions signalled by participants included lessons that Riyadh's experiences in planning and design can teach other cities, and the development of ArchNet, an Internet-based global community being developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the support of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. ArchNet hopes to provide students and professionals around the world with an accessible resource on architecture, urban design and related issues such as restoration, conservation and housing design and construction.
Symposium participants today visited the Great Omari Mosque in Sidon, a winner of the 1989 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was established by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of societies in which Muslims have a significant presence. Under the Award's programme, an independent multidisciplinary jury grants a US$500,000 prize every three years for projects that exemplify effective solutions to challenges of the built environment.
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