Architecture, Urbanism and National Identity in Muslim Geographies

Commonly (and carelessly) used terms like “Islamic architecture” or “Islamic city” remain highly contentious because they designate monolithic, faith-based conceptualizations that fall short of reflecting the actual historical, cultural and geographic diversity of Muslim societies and built environments across the globe. Almost two centuries after the unleashing of initial reforms by local dynastic rulers and/or by European colonial powers (France and Britain in particular) to modernize local institutions, architectures and cities along European models, the states and peoples of this vast region (extending from Morocco to Indonesia) are still struggling to come to terms with a complex and contentious history of modernization and everything from borders to identities still seem to be in flux. After many experiments with modern architecture and urbanism in the 20th century, as well as various “national styles” and regionalist discourses proposed along the way, today the architectural and urban scene reflects the trans-national forces of global markets and neo-liberal urbanism on the one hand, and the rise of political Islam and the reassertion of Muslim identity on the other. At the same time, landscapes of war and destruction, zones of conflict, displacement of large populations and the increasing permanence of refugee camps have now emerged as new topics that seem poised to preoccupy design disciplines for many decades to come. 

Addressing the above from a trans-national and comparative perspective and following a loosely chronological structure spanning 19th and 20th centuries, this lecture/ discussion course looks at the role of architectural, urban and spatial practices in the making (and continuous re-negotiation) of modern national identities across predominantly Muslim lands extending from North Africa to the Asian Subcontinent. Avoiding the western/non-western binary, which privileges the “west” as the exclusive source of modern transformations in other parts of the world, it explores how imported discourses of modern architecture and urbanism are contested, selectively appropriated and transformed in the periphery, reflecting the complex internal dynamics and the specific national projects of these countries in their post-imperial and/or post-colonial encounters with modernity.  Thematic lectures will explore such topics as: legacies of colonial urbanism, the making of national capitals, grand projects of infrastructural modernization, politics of heritage, regionalist practices, urban informality, spaces of globalization, mosque construction and the architectures of conflict and displacement among others. Lectures will be complemented by more focused, in depth discussion of selected texts and projects to provoke a comparative understanding of the experiences of different countries, regions and experiments. A final research paper required.