Art, Science, and Construction: Exploring the Boundaries of Modern Architecture in the Arabic Context, the Work of Sayed Karim and Rifat Chadirji

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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International and Area Studies
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Alsahli, Shaikhah, Ali

This research reconstructs a historical narrative of the evolution of architectural knowledge in the Arabic context focused on its transformation into a modern discipline using locally determined evidence found in primary texts. It explores the changing boundaries of architecture and its relationship to other fields of knowledge, mainly science, mathematics, and art, to develop a reading of modern Arab architecture situated within its own intellectual background. Notwithstanding the emergence of modern ideas, technologies, and forms of governance in the Arab region are primarily associated with their transfer from the West, this study argues that knowledge acquisition is not merely a process of importation and that in the Arabic context, modernity did not emerge from an intellectual void. Furthermore, Arab architects, engineers, and intellectuals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries sought to root this modern knowledge in their Arabic culture. In support of this position, this dissertation examines Sayed Karim’s understanding of “architecture as a scientific art” and Rifat Chadirji’s theory of “dialectical architecture.” This Arabic-centered narrative of modernization is divided into three periods: pre-modern (9th- 18th century), early modern (19th century), and modern (mid-20th century). Historical evidence illustrates that pre-modern architectural knowledge in the Arab-Islamic region was intellectually aligned with both ‘ilm al-handasah [the science of geometry] and ‘ilm al-binā’ [the science of construction]. The second stage examines early Arab encounters with modern science and focuses on nineteenth-century Cairo to explore channels of knowledge transfer. This stage investigates the transformations in architectural knowledge from training in traditional institutions, madrasa and craft guilds, to the establishment of modern schools following Western models, specifically the muhandiskhanah from 1816 to 1879. These changes and the shift from craftsmanship to modern architecture and engineering were integral parts of a chaotic period of transformation. The writing of Arab architects highlighted the presence of intellectual, cultural, material, and technological disruptions in Arab architecture during its transition to modernity. The third stage examines the writing of twentieth-century architects, focusing on two examples, Karim and Chadijri, to investigate the changing boundaries of architecture and how those architects attempted to reconcile modern knowledge with their Arabic context.

Trubiano, Franca
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