Mohammad al-Asad

Whose History Is It Anyway: The Presence of the Past in the Architecture of the Lands of Islam over the Past Century and a Half
November 3, 2017

Mohammad al-Asad discusses a long, complex, and often non-linear process that has been taking place over the course of almost three centuries. This process has included the West’s exploration and documentation of the Islamic world’s architectural traditions since the eighteenth century, the activation of the vocabularies of those traditions in its own architectural production, and their subsequent export to the various parts of the Islamic world. Through this process, various regions of the Islamic world not only have been reintroduced to their own architectural traditions as initially defined through the eyes of others, but also to the traditions of other parts of the Islamic world, many of which are geographically and culturally distant—if not even disconnected—from each other. Add to this the export of the West’s own architectural traditions to the Islamic world. As a result, the vocabularies of these many architectural traditions have assumed a level of fluidity as they have been freely used across borders, have been eclectically mixed amongst each other, and have carried a diversity of messages ranging from the frivolous to the grave. This fluidity, however, has also meant that the more serious political or cultural messages that those vocabularies were sometimes intended to carry have been diluted and overshadowed by formalistic concerns. These messages consequently have very often taken a back seat to more intrinsic and historically more effective aspects of architectural communication such as size, the use of new technologies, opulence and novelty.