Aga Khan Program Lecture: Mohammad al-Asad, “The Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE): A Twenty-Year Journey”

Mohammed Al Assad


This presentation tells the story of CSBE (, an independent non-profit think / do tank. It focuses on exploring how fields connected to the built environment, including architecture, urbanism, landscape architecture, heritage conservation, and construction technologies, can enhance the public good. In doing so, CSBE has been involved in collecting, documenting, and processing data; carrying out research projects; disseminating accumulated knowledge and information through print and online publications, lectures, workshops, as well as courses; and implementing pilot projects.

The presentation will focus on how CSBE has worked on realizing its goals since its inception in Jordan about two decades ago. These goals could not be realized merely through striving for technical proficiency. There also has been a need to develop appropriate internal financial and administrative systems, as well as navigating complex and continuously-changing legal environments. In addition, the importance of grasping available opportunities for collaboration and the development of support networks with relevant organizations and individuals cannot be underestimated.


Mohammad al-Asad is an architect and architectural historian. He is the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of the Built Environment in Amman (CSBE;, an independent private, non-profit think / do tank that was established in 1999.

He studied architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and history of architecture at Harvard University before taking on post-doctoral research positions at Harvard and at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He taught at Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Jordan, the German Jordanian University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was the Alan K. and Leonarda Laing Distinguished Visiting Professor. He was also an adjunct professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. In addition, he has been involved in teaching Open Massive Online Courses (MOOC) in both Arabic and English on architecture and urbanism for the Edraak Platform of the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development, and for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Education Program.

He has published extensively in both Arabic and English on architecture and urbanism. He is the author of Contemporary Architecture and Urbanism in the Middle East (2012). He also co-edited (with Rahul Mehrotra) Shaping Cities: Emerging Models of Planning Practice (2016), and edited Workplaces: The Transformation of Places of Production: Industrial Buildings in the Islamic World (2010). In addition, he is a contributor to the forthcoming 21st edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture.

Al-Asad has appeared in documentary films including Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World (2012), and also led the production of films including Arab Women in Architecture (2014).

He is a member of the board of directors of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts (part of the Royal Society for Fine Arts). He also had served as the Coordinator of the International Academic and Curatorial Committee for the Discover Islamic Art project of the Museum With No Frontiers, and was a member of the Amman Commission, which served as an advisory body for the Mayor of Amman.

Al-Asad was a project reviewer for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture between 1989 and 2007, and has been a member of the Award’s Steering Committee for its 2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019 cycles.

This event is supported by the Aga Khan Program at the GSD.

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