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Modernity, Architecture and Urban Life in the Arab Region

Studio-X Amman
November 4-7, 2012

“Modernity, Architecture and Urban Life in the Arab Region” is the first step towards a long-term endeavor aiming at constructing a regional platform bringing together scholars and practitioners from various fields investigating the notion of Modernity in the past, present and future of cities in the Middle East.

This regional platform will address the meaning and essence of Modernity as a major project of cultural change encompassing ideological, territorial and socio-economic transformation affecting cities and their respective societies.

Introducing “Questions of Modernity”, Timothy Mitchell explains the tension between the universal singular modernity and the pluralistic discourse of alternative modernities. If the modern is portrayed as a universal global phenomenon expanding with Western imperialism, then it is inevitably measured according to its manifestation within contexts outside of the West and according to the latter’s contribution to the singular history of the modern. Similarly, the discourse of alternative modernities implies a singular modernity that is “modified by local circumstances into a multiplicity of ‘cultural’ forms.” (Mitchell, Timothy ed., “Questions of Modernity”, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999)

Mitchell suggests acknowledging the singularity and universalism of modernity, yet at the same time noting that it is inevitably constituted, redirected and diverted by the alternative narratives that are systematically subordinated and marginalized:

“Each staging of the modern must be arranged to produce the global history of modernity, yet each requires those forms of difference that introduce the possibility of discrepancy, that return to undermine its unity and identity. Modernity becomes the unsuitable yet unavoidable name for these discrepant histories.”

How does modern architecture represent such differences and discrepancies in the context of the Arab city?

Modernity Architecture and Urban Life will spark dialogue between different studies conducted on Modernity in Arab cities. A step towards a regional mapping of local narratives of modern architecture in the Middle East, it facilitates an understanding of the links and ruptures within the modern architectural and urban transformations of different Middle Eastern cities. How do architectural modern representations in cities such as Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Casablanca or Ramallah from the mid-20th century redefine the singular notion of Modernity? And how are such representations emerging today in contemporary architecture in Arab cities creating a stage for a new modern architectural language that is responsive to its social, economical and political context?

This symposium will open in Ramallah on November 4th and will proceed in Amman on November 7th of 2012. Local, regional, and international contributors will shed light on alternative modernities emerging in various post-colonial contexts. More specifically, this event will bring together leading architecture historians, planners and designers who have dedicated their research to the multiplicity of quests for modernity through architectural representation from the mid-20th century until today, in cities such as Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Casablanca, Jerusalem, Nazareth and Ramallah.

Dr. Jyoti Hosagrahar presented a paper on Ambivalent Modernities, Emergent Urbanisms: South Asian Perspectives (via skype)

Download the Conference Program.

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