Architecture and cultural identity in the traditional homes of Jeddah

by Alaa Zaher Al-Ban

Institution: University of Colorado at Denver
Year: 2016
Keywords: Women's studies; Middle Eastern studies; Architecture; Gender studies
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2084866
Full text PDF: http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/#viewpdf?dispub=10112566


Jeddah, the second largest city in Saudi Arabia, is located on the west coast of the Red Sea in the Hijaz region. Lying between the two holy mosques, Makkah and Madinah, Jeddah is a more liberal and open-minded city compared to the rest of the conservative Sunni Islamic country. As the only stop along the religious tour with easy access by plane and car, Jeddah and its culture, food, architecture, and lifestyle have been greatly impacted due to the trade route and the religious tourism. Importantly, Al- Balad, the historic city center of Jeddah, is architecturally significant, housing numerous traditional Hijazi homes. With the discovery of oil, local attitudes changed and devalued the culture and the history. And these traditional structures took on a precarious position in the developing city: swimming against the current of Western aesthetics, stereotypes, and political influence, the traditional Hijazi home fell out of fashion, and many structures were left neglected. Due to these changing dynamics and the architectural changes it wrought, this doctoral dissertation endeavors to the architecture of the traditional homes of Al-Balad by investigating the complex interaction of cultural identity and space. In analyzing the architectural details of these residential spaces, deciphering the meaning behind the aesthetics and construction of each architectural element, and considering women’s agency and readings about their traditional lifestyles, religion, and beliefs, this work reveals the hidden gender dynamics within the home, dynamics that are too often ignored or misunderstood, particularly in the West. I argue that the traditional Hijazi home stands as proof of an empowered Saudi woman—but empowered according to a different definition of empowerment, one that challenges Western gender constructs and, instead, incorporates the unique social, religious, and historical context of Jeddah specifically and Saudi Arabia more broadly. Moreover, this dissertation offers a model and methodology for documenting the historic structures in the Hijazi region and promotes the appreciation Saudi culture and history. It fills a gap in current preservation practices for the nation; it aims to provide a foundation for architectural preservation curriculum for schools across Saudi Arabia; it offers a template for documentation practices in order to support, preserve, and understand the history and design of the 19th century Hijazi domestic architecture. There is a valid need for this work. Currently, a poor archival system, a dearth of literature analyzing Saudi residential architecture, and restrictions and regulations imposed by the Saudi government have led to unique challenges. If this dissertation at times seems to avoid politically charged questions, especially within the context of feminist politics, it does so out of respect to Saudi authorities. Despite such challenges, this dissertation, by returning to Jeddah and deciphering and recording what’s left of its traditional, historic…