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Islam Research of Identity

With Sieg Vlaeminck, Han Verschure & Ignaas Deboutte
19.12 1986

The overload of architecture imported from the West seemed to stop lately in the Islamic world with a an architectural revitalization. A search for a truer identity. From simple residential buildings up to spectacular monuments … a quest for the “right architecture on the right place”.

‘autotranslated) A particularly revealing video learning for Western eyes. The spring tide of imported from the West, international “passe-partout” architecture (those places and culture of his estranged identity), the last decade appears to be unstoppable in the Islamic world in an architectural revitalization. A search for a truer identity. From simple residential up to spectacular monuments … a quest for the “right architecture on the right place”.


The rapid development of the oil industry in the Gulf countries: Kuwait, Saoud Arabia caused an urban explosion. The Middle East, was suddenly the impossible task the cities of the 20th century in quick pace from the desert let rise. The models and techniques for such operations were taken where they were available: from the West. Manifestations of international modern architecture were reproduced as signs of progress. The traditional housing typology (houses around a courtyard) were replaced by apartment blocks. Cities were “places of nowhere” which their cultural “roots” denied. This loss of identity was, as the architect Kamal El Kafrani puts it, “a philosophical problem rather than an architectural problem.”

Kuwait has in that operation, most traces of its past already lost. There were new buildings without identity, without context. In recent years, however, a reversal herein and one sees international architects to work with interest for both cultural and climatic context. The new airport (Kenzo Tange) cultural images were processed. In the new parliament building inspired Jorn Utzon on the structure of the Bedouin tent. Massive columns support a concrete “waterproof roof.” A building with a strong “sence of place” and a respect for the history of a country. The new mosque of Mohammed Makilia combines traditional elements with modern technology. Space and light are in the service of the spiritual context. The functional ornament (the letters from the Coran) again gets to play his role.

In addition, Bonnington John built the “stock exchange” as a plain modern building (for that function is no historical “model”). He limited the reference to Islam to the entrance door, and chose as the basis for the building: the climatic conditions of the place … The new water towers in the desert Lundström is a symbolization of the oasis and a monument to the water …

In addition to these examples, strong, there is also the pastiche. Postmodern fantasies superficial hastily assembled geometric patterns … Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy What however is doing for the house of the daughter of the emir, is a genuine plea for Arab housing, grown out of tradition. Here it is not about “façade architecture” or gratuitous finery king with arches and decorating purposes, but to build an indigenous architecture of dried earth with traditional techniques and materials. When the resulting granted resulting spaces and volumes, the question “what is it doing here?” Superfluous.

A new city in the desert.
The ministry of information is a combination of traditional rooms and a modern office complex. The Cattah University (Kamel Kafrani) with its typical “wind towers” is a building in which both the culture of the place, if the climate played a big role, sun and shade, and wind as “air-conditioned” to create a micro- here climate, where the architect Kamel Kafrahi culture lets play a dominant role on the technology.

On the road to Mecca, built the office Skidmore Owings & Merill one-roof in the desert consisting of 210 giant tents. A terminal for a million Muslims who find a temporary shelter each year. The same agency (SOM) built in the city center, the National Commercial Bank (architect Georges Bunschaft). This western-looking skyscraper appears like a closed volume in a triangular layout. At different heights of triangular cut-outs were removed from the volume. The interior office partitions are glazed located in a deep shade sunk. Central brings a vertical atrium slightly to the lower bank space. The way modern architecture here at the service of a micro-climate, as it were, transcends time and geography.

The mayor of Yeddah, himself an architect, gave the Egyptian Abdel Waked El-Wakil (a disciple of Hassan Fathy) commissioned to build a mosque on the water. The “Sulaman Palace” is the work of El-Wakil. We see here an architecture that is not made up of clichés but is grafted onto local craft traditions. An almost natural architecture. The palace located next to the mosque (evenens El-Wakil), the central place of religion in Islam community clearly. A religion that searching for “wisdom” is set higher than the search for “knowledge.”
And an architecture that expresses here. El-Wakil is no modern Islamic architecture style, not fashion, but the expression of a “way of life” and the extension constant in nature. The sun, the desert and the spirit of a people. Architecture so as a medium between man and nature.

The Islamic architecture, said the program makers, also draw lessons for the West. Understanding human behavior, cultural differences and practical needs is essential. Where this is not understood, it fails the architecture, both in the West and in the East. (freely recorded by the program comment) Are in Islam indeed again a quest for the “right architecture on the surrounds place”? The spread is this quest? What difficulties they? The panel discussion and debate can perhaps shed light herein.


Sieg Vlaeminck
- The hard house moderator of this series
- sociologist
- Degree in social sciences and urban planning
- Lecturer at the Higher Institute of Architecture at Hasselt

Han Verschueren
- architect
- Master of science in architecture – Seattle Washington
- Docter in architectural science – KULeuven
- Post-graduate coordinator: Human Settlements – KULeuven, Department of Architecture and urban planning
- Has worked in Saudi Arabia for “Man + Space”
- KUL assignments in Rwanda, Kenya, Tunisia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Zambia …
- Guest lectures in Z.O Asia

Ignaas Deboutte
- Architect and Partner Plan Inter
- Plan Inter is partner of Man + Space International
- Architecture and urban planning projects in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Nigeria and Belgium.