Al-Shariqah: Seascape urbanism and Khaliji identity
Samia Rab & Ayse Sema Kubat - Department of Architecture & Design, American University of Sharjah (AUS)
Radisson Habiba Hall
Sharjah is the only Emirate in the UAE to possess two coasts: one in the Persian Gulf and one in the Gulf of Oman. The seafaring talent of indigenous settlers allowed for the development of urbanism across the Gulf seascape. Today, however, the water of the Gulf has become an ignored industrial backdrop. New strategies are needed to understand the evolution of urbanism, like the unique pre-modern urbanism of Gulf port cities. At March Meeting the Department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Sharjah announced its intention to study specifically the urban integration of the Heritage and Shuwaiheen areas of Sharjah. April 2011 was proposed as the beginning of an examination into the relationship between the urban networks of Sharjah and the social lives of its inhabitants. The study would provide a starting point to discuss and celebrate the characteristic features of port settlements along the Gulf.
Our project is partly funded by the Emirates Foundation and uses maps provided by the Sharjah Directorate of Town Planning and Survey. It involves generating urban mapping, making observations on existing pedestrian movement patterns and using Space Syntax—provided by University College London as a diagnostic tool to illustrate the evolution of Sharjah’s morphology as an example of ‘seascape’ urbanism along the Gulf (‘Al Khalij’). The main theoretical argument in Space Syntax is that the architecture of the urban network shapes the social life of the user. Space Syntax research has shown that the configuration of street layouts influences the way people navigate through urban areas, over and above other determinants, such as the location of retail outlets. We hope to identify spatial causes of barriers to social and physical cohesion between Sharjah’s Shuwaiheen (Arts) area and Al Mureijah (Heritage) area.
Dr. Samia Rab is Associate Professor of Architecture at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), the Regional Coordinator for the Arabian Peninsula of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA), and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Arabian Study (JAS, University of Exeter). Along with teaching and research, she has continued professional development as consultant for UNESCO Paris, ICCROM-Rome, the Government of Sharjah, AEDAS-Dubai, the Getty Centre for Conservation in Los Angeles, and the East-West Centre in Honolulu.