Reflection and discussion
The distinctive cultural and geographical character of the Islamic world has influenced, within the contemporary global condition, a variety of architectural projects and structures that endeavour to give meaning as well as reinforce and, to some extent, reinvent Muslim identity. A vibrant dialectic relationship between tradition and modernity, contemporary and historic, high-tech and environmentally friendly, and global and local is represented in various parts of the Muslim world through architectural projects (Sal- ama, 2009). Many of these projects exemplify the presence of multiple modernities, robustly signifying that modernity is a multifaceted, engaging, and energising architectural tool that can be received, envisaged, reacted to, and manifested in numerous ways in very diverse contexts.
The cases presented in this chapter reflect a unique visual identity of locality and, at the same time, demonstrate a plurality of approaches that have been adopted and adapted in order to reach a nuanced balance between local, vernacular, and global aspirations. Some of the projects have effectively incorporated a blend of local expressions with advanced technology in the construction systems, others engaged mainly with the global community through structures and images that carefully integrate with the surrounding natural environment and its particular features.
Four of the identified projects, the Intercontinental Hotel and Conference Centre, the Hajj Terminal, the Al-Kindi Plaza, and the Nubia Museum, have adopted the traditionalist and vernacular approach in an attempt to translate cultural identity into an architectural image, thereby establishing a visual link between tradition and modernity. For example, both the Intercontinental Hotel and Conference Centre and the Jeddah Airport Hajj Terminal in Saudi Arabia adopted the tent as a significant cultural symbol and interpreted this symbol in a new, modern context. The design concept of the Intercontinental Hotel and Conference Centre proposed an enormous tent structure sheltered beneath an artificial oasis surrounded by hotel rooms and conference facilities. The design of the project collectively used opposing forms of the heavy mud-brick houses and lightweight woollen Bedouin tents as reflected in the concrete frame structure of the hotel complex and lightweight suspension roofs of the conference spaces (Holod and Rastorfer, 1983). The project is a successful synthesis between modern technology and older Saudi housing traditions, an amalgamation of vast open spaces and cool green oases, highly prized in desert cultures. Islamic culture was further reinforced through the integration of Arabic poetry and writing and Islamic patterns into architectural elements (Gutbrod and Otto, 1980).
Similarly, the design concept of the Hajj Terminal also borrowed the image of the tent and reconstructed it in a form of two massive separate but identical tent-roofed pavilions, which are separated by a landscaped mall. The tent in the Hajj Terminal, according to Fazlur Khan, the major architect of the project, “does not copy tents of the past; it is a form for the future, and here it caters for today’s needs of air travel” (Cantacuzino, 1985). The terminal has been recognised as a 20th-century reverberation of the traditional tent structure and is an important contribution to the development of an architectural style that is peculiarly relevant to the Islamic world. It was also recognised as an imaginative design of a roofing system that succeeded in covering a massive space with incomparable elegance and beauty.
While the Intercontinental Hotel and Conference Centre and the Hajj Terminal reinterpreted traditional Bedouin symbols in a modern way, the Al-Kindi Plaza and the Nubia Museum employed particular architectural elements and imaging which adroitly translated cultural identity into design concepts. The master plan of Al-Kindi Plaza was inspired by the urban architecture of Najd, whose buildings are characterised by thick walls, small exterior openings, and the principles of seclusion and privacy. In stark contrast to the absolute and forbidding exterior, the interior spaces are lively and exhilarating places for people to gather, sit, or engage in a variety of activities. Following Steele (1994), although certain traditional elements were borrowed from the past, they were constructed in an intangible form in such a way that reflects the international architectural mainstream.
In the case of the Nubia Museum in Egypt, the design concept was based on the need to guide visitors through the various external and internal spaces of the museum in chronological order of the Nubian civilisation. The museum comprises a three-storey building and a landscaped outdoor exhibition area. To convey a sense of history and the historic local vernacular, certain traditional architectural elements were incorporated into the design (Baker, 2001a). Such elements include open triangle motifs and hand-textured local sandstone, which not only reflect the traditional Nubian architecture but also enhance the building’s relationship with its site and context.
While borrowing elements from the traditional vernacular was clearly represented in the designs of the aforementioned projects, the vernacular was not as extensive in the design of the Olbia Social Centre in Turkey. Instead, the imaging here is embodied in the adoption of certain techniques such as the historical arrangement of the structure and the use of local or traditional materials. For example, a series of buildings, inspired by the lanes of a traditional regional bazaar, were arranged on either side around a central axis formed by a pathway. The main building material was granite stone excavated from local quarries and used for the structure’s load-bearing walls; in addition, a convex timber formation was used for the ceiling, using the same wood and techniques employed in Antalya’s ancient shipbuilding industry (Baker, 2001b). The project has been recognised for its distinctive architecture that revives traditional design principles, building techniques, and symbols, while adopting contemporary vocabulary and appropriate ideas from modern life.
In contrast, other examples represent a form of resistant approach in refusing to use, borrow, or copy and paste elements from the past (Salama, 2009). Such projects simultaneously exemplify contemporary global aspirations of modernity while at the same time introduce vivid images that strongly integrate the building to its surrounding environment. These projects varied considerably in size, design approach, and construction materials. To various extents, three of these projects, the B2 House in Turkey, the Royal Academy for Nature Conservation in Jordan, and the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands in Addis Ababa, effectively combined the use of concrete with natural stone to give a natural appearance that makes the structure an extension of its environment or landscape.
The architect of the B2 House in Birykhiisun Village, Turkey, sought to design a house that could easily be constructed by local builders. He integrated a contemporary exterior using the richly textured natural stone used in local houses on the sidewalls, thus framing it with more modern elements. The house uses natural materials throughout: “the house frames the landscape, the concrete structure frames the stone walls, and the aluminium frames the reed in the folding panels” (Baker, 2004). The project was acclaimed for experimenting with traditional architectural notions about privacy, domesticity, identity, and space with revolutionary results.
Similarly, the Royal Academy for Nature Conservation in Jordan used a concrete structure system. The building was completely cladded with limestone mostly obtained from an existing quarry below. The initial proposal was to locate the building inside the Ajloun Nature Reserve, which would have required cutting down trees from the existing forest. Later the architect decided to locate the building above an abandoned quarry, to avoid adding a new intervention on virgin land (Karaku§, 2016). The design adopted the use of natural ventilation and used stone/concrete louvres to minimise solar gain, in addition to constructing the building with vernacular building techniques. In so doing, the architect embodied the primary role of the Academy, which is to promote and develop ecological consciousness.
In the case of the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands in Addis Ababa, the innovative project has been internationally recognised for two main reasons. Firstly, the structure effectively combined the use of local concrete with Ethiopian stone and timber, especially in the interiors of the building. Unlike many European embassies in Africa that are imposing structures built of imported materials and resources, the novel design of this embassy blends in with the surroundings. Secondly, the design concept intended to merge ideas and materials from both the African and the European culture. The design deftly integrated the Dutch tradition in water management and landscape technology with the natural craggy countryside of Ethiopia (Balamir, 2007). The result was a striking and innovative combination of traditional Ethiopian architecture and Dutch cultural and architectural themes.
The use of modern materials and construction techniques is much more evident in projects such as the National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, the Ipekyol Textile Factory in Turkey, and the Issam Fares Institute at AUB in Beirut, Lebanon. The National Assembly Building in Dhaka was the first major complex in the country to use a concrete structure. The project successfully represented a major architectural trend to a new monumentality by using rough-shuttered, fair-faced concrete inlaid with bands of white marble (Al-Radi, 1994a). This new monumentality also represented the classical antiquity of the country, from ancient Hindu bathing tanks and pantheons of Hindu gods to Islamic and Mughal architecture. The Assembly is viewed as an emblematic monument to the government of Bangladesh and is considered as a successful attempt to be a universal representation of the social structure (Diba, 1989).
Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt was constructed as an architectural homage to a legendary ancient library built during classical Greek times. Accordingly, the design concept needed to have a strong symbolic significance. This was achieved through the use of a circular tilted glass disc representing various aspects of nature and cultural notions such as the sun, rebirth, time, and progression. Additionally, the disc provided good-quality lighting to the reading areas (Alamuddin, 2004). It has been argued by some critics that the library project had political connotations; such biased allegations obfuscate its value and validity as an impressive architectural memorandum. Nevertheless, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is recognised as a modern innovative structure that connects its users with the contemporary world, and as such is both an iconic and a progressive landmark for Egypt.
The Ipekyol Textile Factory in Turkey, located between the European and Asian Anatolia in the city of Edirne, also has a rich historical heritage. Examples of this heritage are found in the city’s architectural treasures such as the Roman Castle and the famous Selimiye Mosque. However, the city also has a lot of bland modern architecture scattered among some faltering urban sites that contain abundant nondescript metal-clad or precast concrete large span sheds (Kara, 2010). The owner of the Ipekyol Textile Factory wanted his structure to be different from such monotonous buildings, so he commissioned a modern, functional, and attractive building which would provide a hospitable working environment for his employees. The Ipekyol Textile Factory design integrated the use of reinforced concrete structure with lightweight steel and glass inspired by these scattered shed structures. Beyond its triumph in providing a pleasant working environment, the uniqueness of the project also lies in its collaborative use of local skills and methods to create thoroughly modern detailing in an outstanding building.
Similarly, the Issam Fares Institute in Beirut, Lebanon, was also designed as an architectural landmark that is different from the surrounding buildings; these were mainly constructed in brick. In order to preserve the historic trees on the site and maintain much of the existing landscape, the architect compacted the building’s footprint by floating many of the facilities above the entrance’s courtyard (Ramku, 2016). In this way, the architect Zaha Hadid also managed to safeguard panoramic views of the Beirut Corniche and Mediterranean Sea. Constructed from modern materials such as in- situ concrete, the extraordinary and novel building appears as geometries of intersecting routes made of a succession of intertwining platforms and spaces.
All of the aforementioned examples represent innovative designs that reflect architectural modernity in diverse ways. Some of these projects borrowed various traditional architectural elements in their design while others reinterpreted certain traditional motifs in an unusual way. Others have created stunning visual imaging to reconnect people with their heritage by using traditional building materials or inventive cladding with natural materials, while others create a strong visual or historical connection with a specific context or a particular environment. Collectively all of these projects articulately reflect the concepts of plurality and multiple modernities.