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Towards Sustainable Urbanism in the Persian Gulf: Analysis of the Past

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Since the 1990s, economic determinism has principally dominated developments in many of the Persian Gulf countries. While spectacular short-term financial gains have been achieved, serious long-term retrogressive and destructive ecological and sociocultural impacts on both land and sea have been recorded. These compelling concerns for the past, present and future of this region prompted Harvard Graduate School of Design’s 2011 agreement with Msheireb Properties (a subsidiary of the Qatar Foundation) to undertake a three-phase research programme entitled ‘Gulf Sustainable Urbanism’ (GSU). For the purpose of this research project, the Gulf (Persian Gulf) region was defined as the eight countries that border the Persian Gulf, which include Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and Iraq. This region provides a significant basis for future analysis and scholarship, as it exhibits continuous urban settlement and sustainability models that may prove significant as we face future ecological challenges.

The first phase of this holistic, multi-year, cross-disciplinary study focused on the past urban sustainability of ten maritime port cities in the Persian Gulf. The research worked within a framework structured by three main research topics, namely, Environment/Public Health, Social/Cultural/Economic and Urban Form/Architecture, and investigated these within four distinct scales: region, city, neighbourhood and unit. This article presents the basis of our selection process when defining urban targets and an overview of the lessons learned from the initial investigations.
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Keywords: Persian Gulf; architecture; public health; sociocultural; sustainability; urban form

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Harvard University

Publication date: March 1, 2014

More about this publication?
  • The International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA) is intended for those interested in urban design and planning, architecture, and landscape design in the historic Islamic world, encompassing the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, but also the more recent geographies of Islam in its global dimensions. The main emphasis is on detailed analysis of the practical, historical and theoretical aspects of architecture, with a focus on both design and its reception. The journal is also specifically interested in contemporary architecture and urban design in relation to social and cultural history, geography, politics, aesthetics, technology, and conservation. Spanning across cultures and disciplines, IJIA seeks to analyze and explain issues related to the built environment throughout the regions covered. The cross-cultural and interdisciplinary nature of this journal will significantly contribute to the knowledge in this field.

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