Iraqi architecture between tradition and modernity : re-creating the urban identity of Basra, the “Venice of the East”

Samir, HH 2017, Iraqi architecture between tradition and modernity : re-creating the urban identity of Basra, the “Venice of the East” , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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Unfortunately, in recent years Iraqi traditional architecture and urban identity have been deeply affected by three wars, which challenged the cultural memory of the local people and in particular of young generations. This research focuses on the city of Basra to investigate the material features of the Iraqi architecture and to develop guidelines to steer the maintenance of the architectural and urban identity.

Thanks to its long history, Basra is rich in cultural heritage. In particular, the numerous canals are a very specific feature, gaining to the city the nickname of “Venice of the East”. However, the three big wars in Iraq -1980, 1991 and 2003- greatly affected the architectural identity of Basra. During these wars, the city was under attack from bombs and grenades every day and as a result of this, most of the heritage and architectural landmarks were lost. Following the last war, many developers carried out different projects in Basra adopting foreign and alien designs, which reflect their ideological culture, far from the city’s spirit and not respectful of the local history and identity. The reconstruction of Basra has been put forward disregarding the identity of the city and threatening the authenticity of the urban landscape and the architectural identity.

This research adopted a mixed method strategy in order to identify the main features of the architectural identity in Basra city and to assess the threats to the traditional identity during the city development process. Following a survey and a set of semi-structured interviews, three neighbourhoods have been selected within the city, to offer examples of architectural typologies and urban morphologies from three different periods: Ottoman, British and contemporary. In addition to secondary data sources such as archival documents, an in-depth field study has been conducted for each of these neighbourhoods, including gathering observations from experts and local residents. Evidence from primary data collected shows that a lack of awareness among local people exists about the value of heritage and traditional architecture, especially among young people. Furthermore, there is a gap in the knowledge of what are the main features, which made the Iraqi architecture unique, as well as, there is a lack of instruments supporting local professionals and practitioners willing to preserve the local identity in architecture and urban design. Improving social awareness and understanding the traditional architecture's value of Basra is an essential route to create a cultural resilience facing the loss of the local identity. Failure to address the local knowledge also depends on a lack of documentation on the tangible heritage of the city. This raises a serious question about what needs to be done to preserve the city identity and what strategy needs to be taken into consideration for the future of the city.

Based on the findings of the empirical study and the opinions of experts, a set of guidelines for preserving the future identity of Basra has been first developed and then validated through a focus group. The guidelines aim at supporting professionals, architects, planners and Iraqi's decision makers to maintaining the architectural identity. More in general, the guidelines offer a feasible example of an alternative, novel approach to steering the Iraqi architectural and urban future towards a different path, respectful of its extraordinary roots.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Schools: Schools > School of the Built Environment
Funders: The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Iraq
Depositing User: Hamed Hyab Samir
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2018 15:31
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2018 15:32

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